How to sort a huge number of cards? | #MyCardSorter DevLog 1

A pile of magic cards

Many Magic Players ask the question: How can I handle all my cards in my collection? While this problem is not exclusive only to Magic: The Gathering players, it is also true for collectors and players of other trading card games. In this DevLog I will tell the story of how I got started into making my own card sorting machine.

Note: This is part of a series of blog posts I currently write (Fall 2023) looking back, realizing that some details might be a bit fuzzy. I failed to document my progress from the beginning, but I wanted to do a write-up anyway.

Since I re-entered the world of Magic: The Gathering in 2017 after I stopped playing around 2006 my collection of cards grew fast. While I tried to at least make sure that the rarest cards I own would be stored in collector binders, I often neglected the left-over bulk cards. The cards would often pile up and would be all over the place after I cracked open another box of the latest set. After forcing myself to also make sure that those cards would find a place in a white card box board, it was often a very time-consuming task since I required at least some sort of organization.  I decided to sort those cards by set, color and then by rarity. I am now sitting with 5 boxes full of cards, which I think roughly translate to over 15,000 cards. 

The motivation

Now, why should you even bother sorting those cards if they are just bulk? Well sometimes there are treasures hidden in the bulk which is one good reason to review those cards and another good reason to sort them is to spend less time looking for a specific card when building a new deck. Luckily my SO is a huge help in managing the collection which already makes my life easier, but still the task of adding new cards is a manual task which I would like to automate.

I also like to shop around on eBay and buy small collections just for the fun of it and to bridge the gap of over 10 years not playing MTG, which also requires me to scan every card after arrival.

While I do enjoy this task of manually sorting and reviewing the cards from time to time, I often find myself thinking: What if I could automate this task somehow?

Now if you are a software engineer like myself, I am pretty sure you can relate: Why do a task manually if you can spend 10x more time automating it? 

Jokes aside: From time to time, I like to challenge myself in exploring a new field in technology I have never touched before. I do know my way around software, and I had a Raspberry Pi lying gathering dust I thought to myself: How hard could it be to somehow build a small machine which takes a picture of a card, identify the card and then allows me to do something with the information of the card like the color, rarity or cost?

To be perfectly honest: I had no idea about how to do anything related to electronics, but I figured this is just a small hurdle to overcome. People build stuff like this all the time, right?

After talking with my playgroup about my idea and hearing similar pain points, I decided on at least trying to create some kind of solution which not only helps myself but possibly other people too. 

Researching existing solutions

Before actually writing a single line of code, I started to look around what other people already did. Since many people in the MTG verse are also tech-savvy and way smarter than me, I was sure there would be projects tackling the problem of handling lots of cards in a collection. Especially stores, cracking packs and boxes open all the time to get the good stuff, often have an enormous amount of cards piling up (I know this from my local game store).

Commercial machines

It only takes a quick "magic card sorter" google search to find existing machines which all have their own approach in sorting cards. There is "Cardbot" by CardCastle, the "Magic Sorter" and "PhyzBatch-9000". These machines are primarily targeted at stores and power sellers and are very interesting. 

They all come at a cost, though. Since they require at good amount of parts and assembly, they either cannot be purchased but only leased or have a somewhat high cost of acquisition.

A screenshot of the Price overview of the PhyzBatch-9000

Those machines are complex and support a huge amount of cards and of course require regular service. 

I link the solutions I found here:

While these solutions probably are great for commercial use, I don't think they are suited for my purpose. They are way too expensive for my use case and targeted to larger collections.

DIY and Open Source projects

While researching existing solutions, I also found some projects in different stages. Most notably is the project by Jack Baumgartel which I actually discovered a little bit later while already tinkering with my ideas. He is documenting his work on his personal YouTube channel and has some interesting ideas and also has a comparison video of differetn sorting machines (the ones I already mentioned). 

His channel:

There was one project I found by Michael Portera which he did in 2018. He used a Raspberry Pi, Lego, a Picam and some other cheap electronics to build a card scanner. After reviewing his post, I decided that I would try and built something similar to make my first steps. 

You can read all about his project here:


In the next update of this devlog you will read about my first steps in building a prototype similar to Michaels.


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