How to Organize Your Magic Collection - The 2023 Pile Challenge

Mikeal Basile
January 16, 2023


“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection--thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you. 

As we are already a couple weeks into the New Year it’s time to reassess our original goals, and potentially adopt some new ones. Perhaps your resolution was unattainable? Perhaps it was made in a fit of optimism that was flavored with champagne, sugar, and pixie-stick dust? Or, maybe you just got sick of that original “goal” you recycled from previous years. I’d like to propose an attainable goal for you. I’m calling it the pile challenge. It’s simple really. You have to deal with one pile of cards for five out of seven days a week. This is basically a way to focus on cleaning up your random piles of unorganized cards without overwhelming yourself with an onerous and unattainable goal. It’s a way to get your piles picked up and maybe even have some fun while doing it.

Catalog - Johannes Voss

On the surface it’s simple. Take a pile of cards and put them away. OK, but how do I put them away? Can we just toss them in a box? Well, maybe? If you are lacking an organization system for your cards, then I’d like to suggest my deck-building organization strategy I covered in a separate article. If that sounds like too much reading or too complicated for you, then I’d like to suggest a simpler system. Boxes for commons and uncommons and a binder or separate box for rares and mythics. Sort each box by color, artifacts, lands, and multi-color. If you’re looking to go for more sorting, then I’d suggest doing that after accomplishing this initial level first. That should make the whole process less intimidating than trying to do too much at once. Now, once you have a system set up, you simply need to make a to-do list. It should like this:

Week 1 (date 1/23): Pile one, Pile two, Pile three, Pile four, Pile five

Now, once you complete a pile, just cross it off your list for the week. This simple act of crossing off a pile a day is incredibly satisfying. Knowing that you are making progress toward your goal of total pile domination is fantastic. There’s plenty of research out there about how wonderful it is to go through heaps of Magic cards and turn them into organized and systematized groups. Well not specifically on Magic card piles, but more so on using lists and crossing off goals as you accomplish them. That’s a wonderful way to start out your fresh New Year’s.

Cogwork Assembler - Joseph Meehan

So how do we determine what constitutes a stack of cards? How do we measure the pile challenge? Simply grab a stack of cards and you’re all set. Look, even if your stack is only 100 cards in size, you’ll be organizing 500 or so cards each week. This is assuming you don’t decide to add an additional pile or two each week, because believe me, it gets addictive. Whenever I add additional piles to my day I simply cross off the next pile in the list. If I happen to do 6, 7, or even more in a week, then I simply write it down and then cross it off. I highly recommend keeping this in a blank notebook or using some sheets of paper you have laying around. Keep the lists with your cards. All it takes is one week’s worth of progress and you get inspired just looking at all those “Pile one, Pile two, Pile three, Pile four, Pile five” labels beautifully crossed off.

That’s all it takes, but this wouldn’t be nearly as much fun unless we found another task to combine with our mound removal. With such a mass of cards to go through, how can we make this even more fun? Yes, I’m assuming you’re reading this because you have a slight organization issue you need to plow through yourself. Organizing is wonderful; it leads to so many more creative opportunities for us during the day, and that’s the sort of thing that just adds happiness to our lives. I have to say that when I’m most disappointed with Magic it’s because I haven’t been spending time with the cards. When I get good quality Magictation time I start to feel better about the game. Perhaps that will work for you too. If that alone does not, then I would like to suggest engaging in the act of creation while you organize. Don’t worry, we won’t be building decks and making more bundles from our piles. We’re in the business of eliminating uncodified clumps of cards. Yet, we can still do all of that while building and creating a whole other pyramid of awesomeness.

Mental Journey - Jim Pavelec

What, pray tell, is this pyramid of awesomeness we get to build while we are purifying our piles into organized bunches of goodness? A Mental Magic bin. What is a Mental Magic bin? Well, ironically enough, it is actually a physical pile of cards. My favorite version I ever had was an under-the-bed storage bin with a literal jumble of cards all strewn about inside it. Mental Magic, for those unfamiliar with it, is a way for two people to sit down and play Magic. You draw from a communal assemblage of cards (or Mental Magic stack) and you get to turn any card face down to become a basic land that has all land types. Otherwise, you get to use each card in your hand as either the card it is…OR…any other card in the game of Magic that has exactly the same casting cost. Now, you get to see the mental aspect of it. Suddenly, that crummy Jump is an Ancestral Recall. That terrible Accorder’s Shield has become a Black Lotus or any Mox you might be inclined to play. This is a fantastic way to make use of all those extra commons and uncommons that you have hoarded over the years. You don’t have to organize this pile either. It’s a fast and furious way to dump the chaff and still have a use for all of it. Heck, you’re still actually organizing your collection when you dump cards into this disorganized stockpile of future Mental Magic goodness.

I have so many fond memories of playing Mental Magic from years ago that I’ve started up the pile challenge mostly to make a mental magic repository. I’m looking primarily to jumble up a bunch of “extra cards” and turn them into an assemblage of mental anguish for my friends. Seriously, if you want to test people’s Magic knowledge, then simply play a few games of Mental Magic. You start getting better pretty quickly, and getting beaten is often more informative than winning. Being the first to bust out a new play or use for a particular casting cost is always exciting. Watching others play Mental Magic is almost as fun as playing it yourself. You can think about what plays you would make, compare with what they choose, and then look for new avenues between it all. This is one of my top recommendations for the year. It’s also just a nice side bonus to filing away those towering piles of cards while also having a little fun while doing so.

Frantic Search - Mitchell Malloy

The goal here is to organize all of our piles of disorganized cards. We get to do this while congratulating ourselves on our daily, weekly, and monthly progress. We get to create a new deck with infinite possibilities while doing this. We are able to revel in our newfound space, and our newfound cards. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has been surprised to find I owned a card that I just bought. Sadly, it was lurking on the bottom of a pile of disorganized cards, ugh! Well, the pile challenge is a great way to stay motivated and focused on achieving a long-term goal. Additionally, it scales well over time. Once you develop the habit of sorting a pile a day, then you really help to avoid ever falling behind again. Unless of course you buy that Ebay lot for 150,000 random Magic cards…then I think you might have to have the Magic-Sorting-Pizza-Party.

Well, as you forge into the New Year and adopt new ideas, throw out some old, and maybe reflect on your mental energies, I hope that you take some time to accept the pile challenge. While you are doing it you may even get a chance to put together the diabolical Mental Magic Mound! If so, may your mounds, and the cards be ever in your favor!