My article today is inspired by our editor Danny who, after reading my articles, asked me how I keep such a large collection organized.
I own roughly 100k cards, down from about 200k half a year ago when I made a big trade, but still a huge amount for most. Of those 100k there are about 61k cards in my collection and the rest is a whole bunch of basic lands, trade stock, bulk, decks and other extra's. More than most online stores I know in The Netherlands and a better selection too. I can find any card in my main collection in under 20 seconds, a little more if it's in a deck or in one of a few special boxes.
(My apologies for some of the crappier pictures: I have to work with whatever I have from that time when a picture can't be retaken).
My collection once fit into a tiny box, but that of course didn't last long. Some pictures of boxes I used along the way:
Ten years ago this was my collection (notice all of the above-pictured boxes still being present at this stage):
As you can see, there are many different boxes, several binders and the drawers from the cabinet on the right. The collection remained this way for a long time, but eventually I reached the stage where this became unmanageable. This is when I decided that I needed to overhaul my process. At this time, I was sorting cards by rarity, color and alphabet. For lower volumes, this works quite decently and you can quickly find cards. Unfortunately, when you are mostly adding cards when a new set is released, and you then need to go through all your red commons to sort in the red cards from the new set each and every time, it gets very tedious.
As you might have guessed, I decided I needed another level of sorting: by set. Paradoxically, because cards naturally come sorted by set when you get them from a box, it was easy to add this sorting level. Of course, this did require that I re-sort what by then amounted to about twenty to thirty thousand commons. A month or two of sporadically sorting cards later, I had a stack of commons divided by set. I added them back into my cabinet, and it became easier to add new sets.
I always knew that I wanted to do the uncommons and rares too, but as those were in smaller numbers it was less of a priority. Of course, after a few years, the uncommons started to become challenging too, so I did the same for them and finally the rares as well. This all happened before mythics came around, and I have always sorted them with the rares in any case.
Life was good until I had the opportunity to pick up a large collection. I estimate at least 100k cards, fortunately largely sorted by set. I got a great deal, but now I somehow had to figure out what I wanted to do with these. I decided at this point that going for a full playset of Magic would make for a good challenge, but that I would need to figure out how to merge with this new collection and then figure out exactly what I have. I always want to keep the best looking copies per card too. A daunting task.
A picture of the collection I bought:
That's 42 binders for sets and all boxes in the picture are filled with bulk.
The bulk of this collection was also roughly sorted by set (and often even by color and alphabet), so what I would do was go through the bulk, get out everything from the set's binder and merge with the bulk. After that, I would take out the best looking cards for a playset and sort the rest of the cards by rarity and value. I would then stack them on my (big) table with the sets sorted in chronological order. When I was done with this I took the sorted cards from my own collection, added those best looking cards from the other collection, filtered out the best looking copies per card and penny sleeved them. Finally I sorted the results by rarity and added the cards to a 800-card box per set. When I was done it looked like this:
During my sorting and filtering, I also updated a spreadsheet with the cards I own. I spent almost three weeks of vacation time on this and creating my spreadsheet...
From here, these boxes moved into a filing cabinet, as shown here:
If I have a single card come in for a set, it gets tedious to pull out a box and add it. I often have large volumes come in at once, but split across many sets, so that gets very tedious. What I do is keep a 5000-count box with dividers for every set, available for storage of incoming cards. Whenever the box overflows I take the largest few sets and sort those into their boxes. This ensures that whenever I am adding cards to the main collection I add a decent number per box while only pulling out a few boxes. I'll also sort away any set that is complete; however, so far I have no complete playsets of any normal set (I do have them for sets like the more recent Commander and Conspiracy releases that I simply traded for as playsets). I'm closest for Antiquities; help would be appreciated.
The way I store my collection keeps changing. I am pretty happy with my current setup. However, there's a chance that I will come up with something better in the future. Right now, there's a lot of wasted space in the set boxes for smaller sets like, for example, Starter '99. Perhaps ultimately someone comes up with an automated storage solution that sorts away and retrieves cards for you. Basically, my main lesson is that there's always room for improvement and that until an automated solution is devised, it will always remain tedious work.
I'm curious to hear how you manage your collection or stock and whether you do anything different from what I do. Leave a comment with your system below.