Tips for an Efficient Collection
For most players managing a collection of magic cards means a trade binder, some sleeved decks, and an ever-mounting pile of white boxes full of bulk commons and uncommons. I know that’s what I did for a long time, but eventually I started figuring out better ways to manage my cards. While the best method really depends on what you enjoy most about Magic, some of the techniques I use should be helpful to others looking to get more out of their collection.
Figuring out what it is you like most in Magic isn’t necessarily obvious or easy. I bought into Standard twice, played Commander for a year, and even tried Tiny Leaders before finally figuring out that when it comes to constructed play, Modern is my format. Even with the correct format identified, I still didn’t really get what kind of collector/player I was for a long time. I initially laboured under the delusion that I could just build a few decks and play them forever; yet every week I was placing orders for more cards for more decks than I could ever realistically play. It might have been an addiction or just cognitive dissonance, but now I figure that’s my Magic niche: acquiring lots of decent decks as efficiently as possible.
While my format is Modern, my approach to collecting should be broadly applicable to any other non-rotating format like Legacy or Commander. It does not, however, work for Standard. Standard is a bad fit for building lots of decks, and being efficient with Standard deck-building is entirely centered around optimizing for rotation.
With that in mind, here are some principles I follow for my collection:
Do not keep cards unless you have a deck for them (mostly)
The biggest inefficiency in the average collection is hanging on to cards that you might play without any real commitment to build a deck to use them. A good current example for me is Aether Hub. The card is Modern playable, but the only obvious home I can think of would be the Amulet Titan deck (formerly Amulet Bloom) as it has played Tendo Ice Bridge in the past. Since I do not own that deck, have no intention of acquiring it, and have no plans to brew around Energy cards in Modern, Aether Hub is not something I would keep. The decision to ship it off is made even easier when the card is commanding a high price due to Standard play.
This isn’t to say my collection is pure Modern staples, but rather that nearly every card I keep I have a deck I could sleeve up right now to play it in - all the way from Assault Formation (Doran) down to Zur’s Weirding (Norin the Wary combo). The exceptions are speculations on cards I think I would use in the future that are at risk of a major price spike - the Zombies I noted in my last article, a playset of Savor the Moment for when Modern planeswalkers becomes a thing, and my two unban predictions: Bloodbraid Elf and Stoneforge Mystic.
Don’t acquire playsets unless it’s really necessary
Another collection inefficiency is acquiring too many playsets. While some expensive cards almost always appear in four copies if they’re used - think of Dark Confidant or Tarmogoyf, others are very commonly played in lower numbers - think of Thoughtseize or Snapcaster Mage. Unless you are really optimizing a specific deck where the fourth copy is critical, there are a lot of cases where two or three is a more efficient number to keep in your collection.
For a while I thought lands were the exception to this rule, and went out of my way to get playsets of all the shocklands during Return to Ravnica limited. I have since learned that while fetchlands are very often played as full playsets, it’s relatively rare to play more than two of a given shockland in a Modern deck (notable exception: Stomping Ground in Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks) These days I’m looking at the Kaladesh enemy fastlands and deciding how many to acquire. The only deck that I can pretty much guarantee needs a full set is BW tokens with Concealed Courtyard, as it has otherwise been painful to get a turn one Thoughtseize and a turn three Spectral Procession. I’m thinking two copies of each and then wait it out to see what Modern decks run more.
And finally it might be obvious but sideboard cards rarely require full playsets. Modern is too broad to flood your sideboard with four copies of Stony Silence or Choke. The main exception would be Leyline of Sanctity and Leyline of the Void where getting a copy in your opening hand is critical to the card being effective.
I have a fairly steady stream of new cards coming in from limited play, and the vast majority have no home in Modern. In the abstract trading these cards to other players is the best way to maximize value, but trading is time consuming at the best of times, and can be nearly impossible when you’re looking to move mediocre draft fodder for very specific Modern cards.
Thankfully most stores offer a buylist where they will convert your draft chaff into store credit, which you can then use to buy as many Liliana of the Veils as your account allows, no questions asked. The catch? You’ll only get about 50-60% of each card’s retail value. That may sound bad, but there are two reasons it’s actually amazing. First, Standard cards invariably lose their value over time, usually culminating in a crash at rotation. Second, Modern cards have a very strong track record of increasing in value. If you cashed out a Polukranos or Desecration Demon at the height of their Standard play and got half the value - say $10 - in store credit, and put that towards a copy of Engineered Explosives around the same time, today you’d be holding a $50 card instead of a $2 card. Remember, when you collect Modern you play the long game.
Some stores will also buy bulk commons and uncommons for $2-3 per thousand cards. Rather than toss your draft leftovers in the garbage, drop them in a white box and once you have a bunch of them filled try to find a store that will take them. It’s not much, but what else are you going to do with 20 copies of Thraben Purebloods? Take back your closet space and get a free Remand for your trouble!
Store your cards in a way that facilitates deckbuilding
The more decks you acquire the more your cards will overlap between decks. There was a brief period where I was able to have everything sleeved at the same time - because my only decks were Living End, Skred Red, and BW Tokens. As soon as I added GB Infect I had to start moving lands and discard spells around, and once I added a fifth deck the dream of having them all sleeved for play was totally dead.
The system I came up with instead involves a deckbox with two decks at any given time, an “active” box of about 1000 of my most expensive cards, cards I play regularly, and cards I have played recently, and then a “brew” box of another 1000 or so less valuable fringe cards that I only use for certain decks. I sleeve the entire active box in the same sleeves, while the brew box is mostly unsleeved with anything over $5 in a penny sleeve. Every week or two I take apart the two decks I had built, then build two different ones out of the active box, bringing in things from the brew box as necessary and sleeving them up. Every couple months I go through the active box and move a bunch of cards back to the brew box if I haven’t used them for a while.
The main downside to this storage system is that it requires you use about a thousand of the same sleeves, and as they wear out you have to replace all of them or the new ones will stand out from the old. It’s been about two years using this approach and it’s getting pretty clear that it’s time to replace my sleeves. To solve this problem I’m going to try moving to double sleeves, and put my entire active box in Perfect Fit sleeves, then just keep two decks worth of outer sleeves for whatever decks I’m running at the time. Having scuffed or grimy inner sleeves isn’t a big deal, but having it on your outer sleeves is a serious problem if you want to use them for competitive play.
And there you have it, four tricks that I use to keep an efficient collection of Modern decks. Hopefully something in there proves useful to you and lets you get more out of your own collection. Until next time, good luck converting Kaladesh rares into Modern staples!