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How to Organize and Sort Your MTG Collection

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way we’ve all had to live our day-to-day lives for the past few years. It’s certainly made it more difficult to get out and gather to play paper MTG. In the meantime, I’ve undergone the large and tedious project of getting all of my paper Magic cards properly sorted so they are both organized and easily accessible. I’m not going to lie… it was a time-consuming process from start to finish and took almost a year to complete, but now that it’s done, I can’t imagine why I didn’t do it a decade ago! Also, bear in mind that my MTG collection was quite large and disorganized to begin with. 

With Covid-19 making it difficult to find opportunities to gather and play paper Magic regularly, it’s sort of a perfect time to do the MTG homework of getting those cards sorted and ready to go when paper play returns to normal. 

 

 

Header - Why Sort and Organize?

Before the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns and shutdowns hit, I was playing a lot of paper Magic. I used to play either Monday Night Pauper or Tuesday Night Modern and then typically an event on the weekend. Not so much anymore. Now I’m lucky if I can get in a Commander night during the week. 

I would definitely say I had a “grinder collection” up until the pandemic hit. I had binders full of my staples for each format – Legacy, Modern, Standard and Pauper – but in general, cards rarely made it back into my binders. For the most part, I had my trusty backpack that tended to be full of deck boxes with my decks but also full of staples I might want to swap in or out of my decks. 

I also had quite a bit of what I’d call “better than bulk.” These are typically cards I’d drafted that I wouldn’t want to sell off as bulk because I thought they were quality cards I might want to play down the road. I had a couple of four-column boxes that, over decades, accumulated a lot of “better than bulk” cards. First world problems, but it’s really annoying to own cards and not be able to find them when you want them!

It also doesn’t help that I moved to Canada from the USA about four years ago and a lot of my cards have been packed away.

So, I’d say that although I had collected a lot of neat Magic cards in my life, those cards were largely unorganized and not easily accessible when I wanted to find them to build decks. It was actually pretty fun to go back through all of my boxes of cards and get a better sense of what I have and what I don’t. It was also kind of interesting to go back through dozens of deck boxes of draft decks, brews, and other random stuff I had squirreled away and get it all organized in a way that I can look at it, find it, and use it when necessary. 

Another huge advantage I see getting my cards organized is that it will prevent me from buying cards I already have (but can’t find!). I’ve often found that it’s just not worth that hassle to dig through 10,000 unsorted “better than bulk” commons and uncommons for a few dollars worth of cards; or, when I did, I wouldn’t be able to find them anyways. 

Obviously, having an organized and sorted collection is better than an unorganized one, but the upside of how good it feels to finally be organized and able to instantly find the cards I want is pretty huge and I recommend it.

 

Header - Declutter

Another huge upside of getting those MTG cards properly organized is that it dramatically reduces the amount of clutter they cause in your life. I can certainly attest to being a person who has constantly had small stacks of cards sitting on my desk or project workstation within the home. Boxes of cards tucked here and there. Deck boxes and playmats stashed in random spots all over the home.

Now that everything is organized and sorted, I’m able to condense it and create one spot for it within my home. I have every single MTG item I own allotted to a specific space within my home for storage. My wife is pretty stoked that free range Magic cards no longer roam around in our home. 

It’s difficult to articulate, but getting all of my cards together, consolidated and into one spot where they belong has actually improved the quality of my life. It’s great to not have to look at my cards as a project that requires work so I can enjoy it as a resource to be easily and conveniently used. I highly recommend taking some time (even if it’s a lot of time) to organize a collection because it really does start to spit out immediate dividends.

It also gave me a better sense of not only “what I have” but “what I have extra of,” which is pretty nice. Some of the staples have fallen out of favor over the years and I likely don’t require four copies of each which means I could potentially trade them for a card I don’t have. Overall, getting those cards sorted so they can be accessible is pretty neat. 

 

Header - How to Organize a Collection

I’ve had my cards organized (to various degrees) in various ways over the years. Typically, it makes a lot of sense to organize cards in such a way that they become more accessible to you when you need them. 

I mentioned earlier in the article that when I was a grinder, I organized (to some degree) my cards by format because it made sense at the time. For instance, if I were planning to travel to a Grand Prix to play Izzet Phoenix on the upcoming weekend, I’d build my deck and then pull all of the possible cards I might want to add to my main deck or sideboard, throw them into a deck box and bring them with me. If I decided to make some changes, I’d at least have the expensive cards with me so that I didn’t have to buy them from a vendor on location. 

Now that I’ve ridden into the sunset when it comes to grinding competitive travel tournaments, it doesn’t really make a ton of sense to have a “grinder” organized collection. I took some stock of how I’m playing now in the present and intend to play in the future. 

I really enjoy playing and building Commander decks, as well as working on building Cubes and Battle Boxes. We’ll see what the other Constructed formats look like when the stars actually align to gather and play some events in the future – but for the foreseeable future, I’m embracing a more social and casual approach to enjoying the game. 

For me, I wanted my cards organized in such a way that my large collection of cards would become an asset to help me build new decks, Cubes and Battle Boxes. Not only did I want to be able to find cards once I thought of them, but I also wanted to be able to use my collection as a Gatheresque MTG encyclopedia to help jog my memory when deckbuilding.

I really enjoy being able to look at my cards and enjoy them which makes binders a real boon. I love being able to look at my cards as though they were a book. So, the big point of delineation in my organization is between whether cards go into a binder or into a box. For the most part, I don’t want to be digging through boxes of cards on a regular basis. Cards that go into my binders I would consider to be “playables” are cards that I’ve either played with in the past or hope to play with at some point in the future. Cards that are neat and I’d want to be reminded of when building a Battle Box, Cube or Commander deck. 

I have a binder of spells for each color (white, blue, black, red and green) as well as a binder for lands, artifacts and multicolor spells. So, if I want to build a black commander, I can grab my black spellbook to look for ideas.

I also organize each of my binders in chronological order by set, which is kind of cool when looking through them as a sort of MTG encyclopedia, since you can see how the cards sort of change and evolve over time, not just in terms of mechanics, but also in terms of aesthetics and artwork.

The goal of how I organized my collection is that I want to minimize the amount of time I’d ever need to spend digging through boxes of random cards. I do think there’s great value to holding onto random “bulk” cards from older sets. I enjoy being able to go back and look at them, or find a card that I’d want to try and combo or pair up with new printings. With that said, I don’t need to have all of those “has potential, but no application” type of cards in my binders. When I’m working on a deck, I don’t need to be looking at every single Grizzly Bears or Hurloon Minotaur variant that’s never realistically going to make the cut. 

I also separated my “bulk” by set, but also by color, and separated out the uncommons so that if I’m ever looking for a specific card that isn’t in my binder, it’ll be relatively easy to find. If I’m looking for a blue uncommon from Onslaught, I can go right into the Onslaught Block box and grab my stack of blue uncommons. So, I assume it’ll also be great for searching for random bulk cards that spike up in value because of a new mechanic, aka Chain of Smog. I could not find a single copy of the card when Strixhaven came out and had several copies in my random bulk cards that I’d never have realistically been able to find by just sifting through stacks of cards. 

 

Header - The Upsides

I’m typically the kind of person who doesn’t take enough time to be as organized as I could or should be – I kind of just want to go from one thing to the next. If any of this sounds familiar or like deja vu, I can tell you that getting my cards in order and accessible to me has been a life changer. 

No more clutter. No more buying redundant copies of cards I don’t need but can’t find. No more cards stacked up all over my bookcases and office and a happy wife who appreciates that my collection now lives in a specific place within the home.

It’s also sort of important to keep in mind that organizing your collection might be an epic project. It certainly was for me! It took about a year to get everything properly sorted, organized and stowed where it needed to go. I set up a folding table in the basement and that was my sorting station. Whenever I was bored in the evening or at night, I’d go downstairs and sort cards for an hour or so. A little bit at a time is a great way to tackle overwhelming clutter or disorganization.

Anyway, these are my thoughts on my experience of sorting and organizing my fairly large collection of Magic cards. It took a lot of work (but spread out over a year) and it’s hard to describe how palpable the upside and convenience of having the project completed actually is. For a primarily paper-gatherer player, using the downtime from IRL play to really get my collection under control so I can use and enjoy it has been a huge boon.

 

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