I am not enjoying this particular round of presidential elections. With global warming, income inequality, Russian belligerence, police brutality, and the slow-motion collapse of the American legal system all on the table, there are a lot of ways the world can go sideways. And if push comes to shove, Trump is elected, and I ever need to flee my home; I do not want to make the same mistake I made last time I was forced to flee. Back then I was in college, fleeing an abusive man, and in the heat of the moment it didn’t seem worth it to dig out my Magic cards when I was throwing all my shit into the back of a sporty hatchback. In one night my world changed. Years later, when that ugly situation was finally resolved, I was given one afternoon to remove anything I had left behind, and luckily my childhood collection was still intact. But that’s the type of experience that burns into a person’s soul.


Paranoia is the vestiges of trauma, and I have that shit in spades.


For years I have had a compounding problem concerning the organization of my collection. Typically it was just irritating, making it harder for me to find cards than it should be. But with the prospect of fight or flight on the horizon, this irritation had morphed into anxiety. I will never be able to bring my full collection anywhere—it is sprawling and heavy in aggregate—but I didn’t even know which boxes I should prioritize, because everything was everywhere. It wasn’t a sustainable system; hell, it wasn’t even a system. It was chaos.


Being a Commander player makes your collection more susceptible to this sort of sprawl, I have found. As a Commander player, I do a lot of brewing; as a kinesthetic I like to have the cards in front of me when I am figuring out what to add and what to cut. (This was actually one of the more challenging aspects of my time on Dear Azami, since I rarely did those deck doctorings with the cards at hand.) Since Commander is a singleton format, this leads to piles of mixed cards, rejects from the last round of upgrades. And those cards often are valuable! It turns out cards that are good in Commander tend to be at least powerful uncommons, and often rares. Exactly the type of cards you don’t want to inadvertently leave behind somewhere, like you did with a Royal Assassin that haunts you to this day. “You.”


Magic is also great for people with hoarding tendencies. “Great.”


The scope of the project has overwhelmed me in the past, but I found that playing to my paranoid side gave me the kick in the ass to give this herculean effort the attention it deserved. So this past weekend I rolled up my sleeves, dug out all the random caches I could find, and set to work organizing them. It took all weekend, and while I am still not done per se, I made a tremendous amount of progress of which I am proud. I’ll explain more about how and what I did, but first I wanted to mention something I hadn’t expected to arise during the process.


Oh my goodness did my back end up killing me by the end of the weekend. There is a physical cost associated with that sort of repetitive, detailed-oriented task. I am fairly good at mechanizing my motions when doing iterative work. For Magic I hold the cards rotated upside down so I can quickly sort by expansion symbol (hard to explain but super helpful), I keep all my piles within arm’s reach so I don’t have to stretch out of position regularly, and I sort out by subset (in this case block, but often color) before doing a more individualized run. Perhaps had I been doing this sort at a desk with proper ergonomics it would have been less punishing, but sitting on the floor surrounded by cards (the biggest open space I had, and I needed it) my back ended up slowly hunching over the course of the weekend, and it is still killing me today. So watch out for that if you do a big sort. I wasn’t expecting a physical cost, but it’s there . . . another barrier between the chaos of using Magic cards and the perfect organization available to those who primarily collect.


This was not the first time I have attempted this task; I have binders for sets back to Magic 2010. As such, my initial search criteria was to sort everything that had a binder by block, and then to sort the rest by color. I made an interesting decision which streamlined my process; in the past I’ve endeavored to put ancillary product reprints in with the set with which they are most commonly associated, but this time I mostly kept them in with the random rares sorted by color. Eventually I would like to section those cards out from the rest, but that’s a task which can definitely wait. As is, it relies a lot on my recollection, and my encyclopedia card knowledge rusted as other concerns started to rise to the forefront.


At the end of the weekend I had the following things: a flat of cards that centralized all the relative rarities in my collection (i.e. rares, mythics, and anything else with financial relevance), a binder for my money cards (like From the Vaults singles, old school dual lands, and basically any card played in Legacy or Modern that is stuck in my head as being valuable), and a bunch of block by block binders of rares and utility commons/uncommons. The bulk commons and uncommons are still a mess, and technically the last two blocks have yet to make it into the binders they deserve, but it’s progress, and the progress I’ve made today means I have a lot better sense of where everything is.


I recognize that my impetus for this change was pure paranoia. That future, in which I need to run for my life and yet Magic cards still retain value, isn’t a probable one. But I’ll say this: Sunday night I slept better for having completed my task. I don’t have any control over this election, beyond voting for Hillary Clinton and making sure everyone I know votes for her as well; I do have control over how I organize my life, though. This past weekend I came one step closer to my ideal.


And I have nothing but respect for the store owners and finance grinders who do this type of thing every weekend. They are far tougher, and have a higher frustration tolerance, than I, to put their bodies and minds through this repetitious task on the regular. Here’s hoping they sleep well too.


Jess Stirba is quite scared of a Trump ascendancy, being a criminal justice policy wonk.

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