I think you should first focus on getting the computer to analyze a picture of a card and then match it. Do not try to rely on the symbols on the cards. First, not all cards have symbols. Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, 4th, and 5th did not have symbols. Knowing how to tell the difference between these means you look at some different details. Also, there are editions that have duplicated the edition symbols. Chronicles is a good example of that. Cards from Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark were all reprinted in that edition and their symbols were used again. So any identification method has to rely on more than just the symbol. I do not know what it would take to build equipment/software to take a picture of the card in question and then compare the full picture against a database. Not sure on the speed either. If it takes 1 minute for the program to identify the card then that will bog down any kind of sorting machine. My guess is the machine needs to make the decision in a second or so. At 1 card per second, it should take a little over 15 minutes to go thru a 1000 cards and get a list of what is in there. Then the computer organizes that list and then physically moves the cards to match the organized list. Plus, it would be nice to automatically move that list into a database or at least into a file that can be exported.
I have an idea on how to get the machine to physically handle the cards. Rely on an arm that uses air pressure and a cup for suction. That way you do not have to try to find a way to grab the card by its edges. You can avoid grabbing more than one card at once and also maybe prevent damaging the card. I am thinking of a tube with a cup at the end and there is an air flow that can be turned on or off, maybe even reversed. When the computer wants to pick up the card the cup is positioned on top of the card and the air flow is turned on. The pressure difference will catch the card. It would not take much pressure. The arm can then move and when you want to drop the card you either kill the air flow or reverse the pressure.
As for sorting technique, here is the method I think would work. The first pass thru the cards the machine scans each one and keeps in memory the name/edition/version of the card and its location in the stack. Then it will go thru the main stack and move the cards to smaller stacks logically. Kind of like a sort of physical array sort. It is sorted on a ranking based on a master list in memory that is set by the user. Personally, I would want by Edition and then by Alphabet and then by Version (for the editions with multiple versions of the same card) but there are many different collectors out there who want their collections organized different ways. The computer program keeps track which stack each card was put in. It will move the cards into stacks and then back into the main stack. Each time it does this it partially organizes all of the cards. After a couple of iterations you should have the cards sorted. I know I have simplified my explanation but from what I have seen of sorting programs and also physical sorting methods I think it would work.
Well, this is a subject I have been putting a lot of thought to lately. I am not too experienced in building electronics but I do deal in data and have had to work on sorting and organizing data. Would love to see how far along you can get this. If you have any questions let me know.