How to Organize Your Commander Collection: A Brewer-based System for Organizing your Magic: the Gathering Cards

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“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.

The Case and Theory behind using the CCNC 

I have several New Year’s Resolutions this year: exercise goals, Magic the Gathering collecting goals, deck building goals, writing goals, and organization goals. Today, I’d like to share with you my method for organizing my 100,000+ cards. You don’t have to have a large collection to benefit from this system, and it works really well at all levels of collecting. It’s a system based on deck construction and creativity. Everything I’ve learned about organizing has come the hard way; for me, it does not come naturally. When quarantine began in March of 2019 I decided to stop procrastinating and finally reorganize my collection. In years past, my play group had traditionally been playing sixty card multiplayer decks, but the last several years we had only been playing EDH/Commander. So, I decided to reorient my entire collection and put the sole focus on Commander deck construction. Now, there are many theories out there as to how to organize your collections. I’m offering you my method which I have dubbed the CCNC system of organization. It consists of breaking things down by color, creature, non-creature, and casting cost (CCNC). I have used this method for years, but I hadn’t applied it to my entire collection until now. It works at all levels of collecting. If you just started collecting or if you have tens of thousands of cards this method is what you, as a Commander player and collector, should be using. The CNCC system helps stoke creativity and enjoyment, so let’s get to the fun of organizing (said no one ever).

The Need for Organization:

To provide some context here is a summary of what my collection consists of at this time. I did not always have such a large collection. For at least my first year I could fit every card I owned inside one little box. However, my collection has grown steadily over the last 25+ years, and having a system like I employ now will only help you keep your collection in a much better place than mine was for the last ten years (read organized chaos). Currently, I keep nine different binders that are for mythics, rares, and powerful uncommons. I keep my commons in a 72 drawer card catalogue. Yes, the kind that used to be used in libraries to house Dewey Decimal system cards, but is now employed to hold my 90,000+ commons and uncommons (kids, ask your parents if they know what one is). I keep my Commander decks in 6 Stanely 10 Compartment Pro Small Parts Organizers. I’ve used and owned many other deck cases over the years, but from a utilitarian and budget perspective these simply can’t be beat. Additionally, I have a Cube (for drafting) that is stored in a customized wooden box. These cases reside on the shelves next to my card catalog. Now that you know what I’m dealing with, I’d like to explain a whole lot more about how you can get yourself so blissfully organized.

My wife has repeatedly told me that organization is not something you do in one day, but something you do a little bit every day. She’s right, but I had to catch up on not doing any for years, so I was doing it all-day for days and days. I went through nearly 70,000 cards (maybe more). It’s worth it, and if you’re behind on your organization, then don’t worry overly much. Every bit that you do now is a bit that is done and won’t need to be done ever again. When your approach is positive then every step you take is a meaningful step toward the goal of being fully organized. You just need to keep a positive attitude, and trust that you will save so much time and money by having your cards properly organized. 

The Theory and Case for using the CCNC Organization System.

I developed this system years ago, and it is all backed with solid reasoning. I wanted my collection to be organized in a way that helped me build decks, so I broke down my deck building process and analyzed it. Once the initial inspiration for a deck strikes me, I like to pull out rares I own that can go in the deck. So, all rares are in binders by color. I further separate the color into creature and non-creature spells. Again, this wasn’t always the case. When I was just starting out, I used to have only one binder, and then I had a trade binder and my keep binder. Now, I have a binder for each of the five colors, one for colorless, one for lands, one for multicolor, and one for trading. The rare binders work out really well, as I don’t organize much beyond creature or non-creature spells. The cards are just slipped into the binders as I collect mythics, rares, and powerful uncommons (like Swords to Plowshares). Having these cards semi-organized within the binder allows you to quickly find the cards you think you want, but also allows you to stumble upon cards you didn’t even realize would be great in the deck you’re building. Yet, if I had opted to organize like a card store, and put everything by set, color, and alphabetical order, then I would easily skip over cards that could have offered me some great memories and fun times. If you don’t have the money to invest in keeping binders, then using boxes and color-coded dividers works well too. You end up picking up your stack of cards, and rifling through them to find that rare. While doing this you tend to stumble upon some truly serendipitous synergies. This is a great way to make use of “bulk” rares and other cards that can otherwise end up dusty and forgotten.

Once I have selected rares for my new decks, then I fill the deck out with commons and uncommons. I am often thinking about the mana curve in my decks, and how I need to make plays at all stages of the game. This is why I separate my commons and uncommons not simply by color, but by casting cost as well. I actually separate them into colors, creature or non-creature, and finally by casting cost. I have found this is a truly wonderful method for spicing up your decks and finding interesting cards to play that were buried in your collection. You might be building and realize that you have almost nothing in the three and four drop slots in your deck. Well, now you can go ahead and peruse all the cards in those slots quickly and efficiently. This also allows you to stumble upon interesting synergies and fun cards that otherwise would be lost if we were to have our collections organized like a store. I’m not interested in selling my cards or putting my hands on a card as quickly as possible. Hence, I eschew the alphabetizing and expansion set system of organization. I want my deck building process to be as organic as possible. That’s why I don’t go beyond the CCNC level of organization. It enables me to quickly find a card that I know I need, but also allows me to mine my collection for hidden gems. I can’t stress enough that over-organizing your collection really can lead to stifling your creativity. When I’m magictating, I want to be able to get lost a little bit in the magic of the moment. I want to reminisce with my older cards, and maybe toss in a few sub-optimal cards in order to revel in the nostalgia they offer. I assure you the CCNC system is an excellent balance of efficiency and creativity.

Committing to Commander

Perhaps you are still hanging onto your old multiplayer sixty card decks? Well, for me, I was until I finally took the plunge into Commander full throttle. So, I began breaking down all of my old decks. I had over thirty unique sixty card decks built. As I did this I found that I kept stumbling across ideas for Commander decks. I realized that I needed a system for beginning new decks. I started by using boxes and divider labels. Often I didn’t even bother labeling the idea, but instead just put the Commander or thematic inspirations for the deck in front of the stack of cards as I went. While you keep on organizing you can create several piles that will be developing into what could be some seriously new and different decks. Think of it as creative pile shuffling.  With deconstruction finished we can turn our attention toward separating commons and uncommons by color, creature vs non-creature, and finally by casting cost.

Time Saving Tips: 

I have a few pro-tips when it comes to organizing using my system. Begin by separating everything by color. Once you’ve got commons and uncommons into their respective colors flip the cards upside down so that the power and toughness for creatures is at the top and begin sorting between creature and non-creature. This makes the process go by incredibly quickly. I have sorted tens of thousands of cards this way, and through some trial and error I found this was the most expedient method available. Once you have creatures and non-creatures separated, then you can sort them into their casting costs using a typical mana curve pile. It’s like building a draft deck, but this time it’s just to ensure the curve is grouped appropriately. This is the part where you really start to re-familiarize yourself with your collection, and you’ll often want to have those deck idea piles handy. I found myself dumping many cards into potential new builds as I did this. This will save you building time later, and help you keep your inspirations moving forward. The synergies you will notice during this portion of the process are priceless. You will be so happy that you discovered such interesting cross-overs among the various expansion sets by getting organized. I often find myself making connections between sets that have over a decade separating them.

Organizing this way isn’t necessarily an onerous task. It can actually be quite fulfilling, interesting, and downright fun! No, Huck, I’m not pulling a Tom Sawyer on you here. While I was in college I would often sort through freshly purchased bulk collections for my local game store. They would reward me with first crack at anything I found, some store credit, and a small discount as well. I spent hours sifting through cards and pulling out rares, powerful uncommons, and building cheap commons decks all while sorting for the store. This was before Pauper was even on anyone’s radar as a format. My play group built commons decks for fun, because we wanted a way to utilize all our commons and provide a decent play environment while doing so. All commons decks were a cheap way to get more variety into our Magic lives, and I built many a deck from those hours of sorting. When you’re sorting your own collection the best part is that you already own all of these cards, and you get to not only keep them, but play with them in new and interesting ways. The further behind you are in organizing cards the better it is for finding fun new inspirations and jumpstarting those decks you’ve always wanted to build. Having a large task ahead of you actually means you have more opportunity for finding fun. Enjoy it! 

Savoring the fruits of your efforts:

Once you have your cards sorted I believe you will find that building your decks will not only be faster, but also more enjoyable. You will easily be able to pull out the cards you look for, but you will also enable stumbling upon wonderful new synergies as you do so. The variety of cards available to Magic players is one of the best parts of the game, and the Commander format lends itself to this type of variety. Organizing things in order to put your hands on them as fast as possible is really something for a gaming store. Their job is to move inventory and get the product in the customer’s hands. Your job as the architect of your own designs is to build and build with joy. If you over-organize your collection, then you run the risk of losing out on some of that deck building joy. The reason some people don’t enjoy deck building is really because they are going about doing it without investing themselves and their own ideas into the build. It is akin to following a Lego instruction manual or going it on your own. Sure, you can build a really cool castle following those directions, but you can also build your own space castle with rotating gargoyle turrets that has a built-in sky dungeon. Basically, don’t be afraid to create, and learn to love your own creations by not only enjoying them as a final product, but enjoying the process of bringing them into being.

Parting thoughts on using the CNCC system of organization:

Being a brewer is another way to bring more joy into your gaming world. Your friends will love seeing what janky new rares and quirky commons and uncommons you have managed to cobble together to create interesting and impactful plays. I think back on all the decks I have built over the years, and I realize that my spiciest decks were all inspired by cards I’ve stumbled on while building other decks. This serendipity of random discoveries only increases the joy of keeping and maintain your collection. My system is not merely one for retrieving cards to slot into decks like a machine or computer program. This is an organic system that feeds your need to create. It helps keep you from getting stuck in the creative process and offers built in ways to keep your creativity percolating. The CCNC system is also based on fundamental elements in deck building: creatures, non-creatures, and mana curves. There are many ways to organize your cards, but using this method allows you to be both free and efficient.

If you enjoyed this article, then please consider subscribing to my blog. Subscribing will send new articles directly to your inbox (about once a week, so your inbox won’t suffer). You won’t have to check back to read any fun new Magictations. Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “How to Organize Your Commander Collection: A Brewer-based System for Organizing your Magic: the Gathering Cards

  1. Wow, I love it. A great idea for organising your collection. I wouldn’t have 100,000+ cards, but I’d say I am definitely in the 50k range. So far I have just been organising them by colour and trying to use apps but when I go to build a deck it takes me soooo long to find what I need. Apart from my rares, I keep those in books and binders. Great read. 👍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The CNCC system is pretty interesting. I had never thought to include casting cost as a sorting variable. How long did it take you to get everything added to the card catalog?

    Liked by 1 person

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