Staying organized is a great way to improve one’s productivity—not just in Magic, but in everyday life as well.
We all have different methods for organization. Some players alphabetize everything and can find anything in their collections without missing a beat. Others throw things in boxes and binders without considering the difficulty in finding a particular card at a later time.
If you’ve ever frantically searched for an expensive playset that you know you own but just can’t locate, today’s article is for you.
The first thing to decide when organizing one’s collection is what particular cards are for. Mixing your specs with your personal collection is a quick way to lose track of where cards are, the money you’ve spent, and the earnings you need to break even. I view my collection in three different categories:
Cards that I’m intending to hold onto for the foreseeable future get categorized here. These are cards I intend to play with in one capacity or another. This is what most players would refer to as one’s “personal collection.”
These are cards purchased specifically for investment purposes. I closely track everything in this category to watch for the ideal time to sell each individual card.
3. Draft Leftovers
This may not apply to everyone, but as a player focused primarily on Limited, I end up with quite a few extra cards. What does one do with cards that are not incorporated into one’s personal collection, don’t fit the category of a spec, and can’t quite be considered bulk? I’ll discuss this below.
More on Playables
I organize playable cards in a variety of ways based on how I intend to use them. This keeps everything accessible when I need it.
Like most cubes, I keep mine in a box ready to grab and play. But what about cards not currently in my list that I want to keep handy? I have a binder specifically dedicated to these. I picked up the idea from Brainstorm Brewery’s Andrew Colman, who refers to the concept as an on-deck binder.
Any cards that I’m saving specifically for cube are either in the list itself or in this binder. This makes it easy to quickly find a card if I am going to update the list, and if I add a new card to the cube, I know exactly where the removed card goes.
You’d be surprised how useful this practice is. Without an on-deck binder, I would have to make a decision where to put each card I remove from my cube. With the on-deck binder, the decision is made in advance, which saves a ton of time.
Commander is not a priority for me, but I maintain a Maelstrom Wanderer deck just for kicks. My cube’s on-deck binder stores a few extras to hold onto for EDH, but in general, if a card is only good in EDH and is not already in my deck, it’s in my trade binder.
More dedicated Commander players will have a system for storing currently unused staples in a similar way that I hold Cube extras—perhaps a separate on-deck binder for EDH. Dedicated fans of the format may have a different binder for each color.
The only competitive Constructed format I maintain a collection for is Modern. I keep two binders handy: one is for format staples and the other is strictly for lands. I don’t often play Modern, though, so I don’t bother having decks preconstructed—this would just make it harder to locate cards when preparing for an event. Common and uncommon playables are kept sorted by color in a long box. With everything neatly sorted, I know exactly where to find the cards I need to build a deck for an upcoming tournament.
But what about Modern staples that are in my cube? While in some cases I might keep five or six copies of a card for just such a circumstance, this often leaves money on the table unnecessarily.
What I’ve found to be extremely useful is to put a token or land in the space of a missing card and write something like, “Cryptic Command in Cube” or “Scalding Tarn in Maelstrom Wanderer EDH.” By noting exactly where the card is, it makes it quick to locate, and it avoids panic-driven moments where one is sure he owned a playset but can only find a three-of in his binder.
3. Other Formats
I don’t keep a collection for Standard or Legacy, but if you do, you can certainly use the same kind of techniques as described for Modern cards. Things get a little iffy with cross-format staples, but you can always use the “Vendilion Clique in Legacy binder” placeholders if you’re really worried about finding cards quickly.
More on Specs
Cards purchased for investment purposes are stored in a box in penny sleeves, with up to ten copies of a card per sleeve. I keep the box organized by format and then in WUBRG order within each format.
The reason to organize by format is because PTQ seasons and other factors have such a big impact on card prices. By keeping my Modern specs separate from my Standard, Legacy, and casual cards, I am prepared for Modern season and know which cards I need to keep an eye on.
Similarly, keeping Standard specs separate allows me to watch my more volatile specs much more easily. I’ve discussed my hands-off approach to MTG finance before, but this can be risky with Standard cards. By keeping them sectioned off, I allow myself to check a small subset of cards more frequently.
I’ve written about it before, but the lists feature on Trader Tools 3 is fantastic for tracking one’s specs. Although it’s a time commitment to initially get things listed, once that’s done, checking on a particular format is easy and fast.
One of the nicest things is that it makes your list available remotely. How many times have you been out and wondered how many of a certain card you had? Or if your collection had moved in price? By keeping a digital database, you have more information at your fingertips, which really helps you make informed decisions, even away from home. Like my spec box itself, I keep my lists organized by format.
Of course, a trade binder is also useful. Although I don’t do much trading these days, I keep track of cards with particularly high spreads by keeping them in my trade binder. Because I’m less likely to want to buylist a card with a high spread, these are the perfect types of cards to have available when I am in a situation where trades are happening.
Tracking each trade you make can help give you an idea of if your trades are working on both a short-term and long-term level. I usually take a picture of the cards in question with my phone, as it’s the quickest way to note a trade.
Finally, I keep an unsorted, uncataloged bulk box for rares and common/uncommon foils that just aren’t exciting. Every once in a while something in this box will hit, but there’s no point in spending time tracking junk. Much of my philosophy regarding organization is the idea that putting the time to sort things properly upfront saves multiples of that time in the future, but it’s just not worth it with bulk, in my opinion.
A Little Bit on Draft Leftovers
Most draft leftovers are bulk and get sold in the Craigslist lots I described in the Zero to Draft series. Some are cards I’m legitimately speculating on, so those go in the spec box or trade binder. Many are Standard cards Plummeting in price, so they get placed in the trade binder with a priority to get rid of them.
Everything that doesn’t fit these categories goes in a long box labeled, “Commons and Uncommons for Eventual Buylist.” These are mostly uncommons or power commons that I am happy to sit on for a couple years.
For example, I’ve currently got a few hundred guildgates in the box. Although I could buylist these for four cents each right now, I’m holding out for ten cents. This could take another year or more, but a couple hundred cards doesn’t take much space, so it’s not much of a sacrifice to wait. And considering all of these were drafted, the costs are sunk and I don’t have to worry about recouping immediately.
However, I only keep one box like this as a rule. If it starts to get too full, I buylist what I can and reevaluate whether cards are worth holding. If there haven’t been any buylist offers for a card in this box, I’m not too proud to say I’m wrong and put it in a Craigslist lot. The last thing I want is a bunch of near-bulk piling up in my closet.
Saving Time, Saving Space, Saving Sanity
I take organizing my MTG collection seriously because the benefits are well worth the time to me. Being able to quickly access cards for play, sale, or trade purposes is fantastic, and knowing exactly what cards I have and where saves me a lot of aggravation. Again, I’m a strong believer that spending a little upfront time getting things sorted properly can pay major dividends in saved time later.
This is personal preference, but I also like to keep my collection to a manageable size. I keep one on-deck binder for my cube, one spec box, one box of common/uncommon playables, and one box for eventual buylist. If these get filled and it looks like I’ll need a second box, I don’t just buy a second box. Instead, I reevaluate why I’m keeping what I am and make changes.
I don’t feel the inclination to keep 10,000 or more Magic cards around, so I make a conscious effort to keep things rotating and never start to pile up too much jank. For me, a clutter-free environment equals a productive environment, so I take steps to make that happen.
Do you have an organization system that works especially well? Share some tips in the comments!