Choosing Your First Tarot Deck

Starchild Tarot Rose Portal on Table

Today, we’re discussing how to choose your first Tarot deck. There are several things to consider to select a deck that you’ll enjoy. And, because I’m all about sharing the love, remember that you can use the guidelines below to choose any type of deck, with the exception of the first section on Tarot deck styles.

Popular Tarot Deck Styles

First, while I am a student and teacher of the Tarot, I am not a Tarot history scholar, so my explanations of these Tarot traditions may be imperfect or overly simplistic. Most of my Tarot decks, and most modern, currently available Tarot decks, were created in the Rider Waite style, so that’s the tradition with which I’m most familiar.

Tarot de Marseille(s) is one of the oldest Tarot traditions and is still quite popular in French-speaking countries. Marseille Minor Arcana (or pip) cards often have simpler illustrations than in the Rider-Waite-Smith, sometimes simply the symbol of that suit repeated as many times as the number of the card (ex. 5 coins for the 5 of Pentacles). The two types of Tarot decks most popular with current English-speaking readers are the Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth.

The Rider-Waite-Smith (AKA Rider Waite or Waite Smith) is the most widely known and referenced tradition among English-speaking Tarot enthusiasts. AE Waite, author of The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, and artist Pamela Coleman Smith, produced their deck for the mass market in 1909, purposefully keeping the influences of astrology and the Qabalah to a minimum, despite their membership in the Golden Dawn. (The Hermetic Qabalah is a mystical, esoteric tradition forming the philosophical basis for organizations such as the Golden Dawn and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.) The Rider Waite introduced illustrated Minor Arcana cards with detailed, symbolic art to tell the story of the card.

The Thoth Tarot (AKA the Book of Thoth, the Crowley Thoth Tarot) relies heavily on astrological, Qabalistic, and alchemical imagery. Controversial occultist Aleister Crowley and his student, artist Lady Frieda Harris created this deck to illustrate Crowley’s Book of the Law. I have a growing interest in deepening my understanding of this style.

Tarot Deck Types: Rider Waite vs. Marseille vs. Thoth at Labyrinthos Academy

Factors to Consider

Level of detail in the artwork: More detailed artwork can make it much easier to interpret the cards. If you go blank in a reading or have trouble connecting the card to the question asked, you can use an object, color, or overall feel of the card to make sense of the relationship.

Artwork style: Do you prefer colorful images or more earth tones? Would you rather see human figures or animals? Do you like realistic or whimsical artwork?

Appearance: Glossy or matte? Glossy can be more visually-appealing and easier to shuffle, but also will show more fingerprints. Some matte cards are more difficult to shuffle but photograph better.

Theme: There are Tarot decks with nearly any theme imaginable. Are you interested in a deck related to a specific movie or TV show? (One caution about TV or movie-themed decks: They may be more difficult to learn Tarot with, related to the limited number of characters available to represent each card.) Do you like frogs, crystals, flowers, or foxes? There’s a deck for you!

Card size: Smaller cards are often easier to handle and shuffle. The artwork is more visible on larger cards.

Cardstock or other material: Read reviews for others’ opinions of how the cards feel. Use caution with thin, flimsy cardstock, as the cards may not hold up well to shuffling and may not last as long.

Do Your Homework

Look at as many of the cards as you can. I’ve purchased a deck before based on 5 cards that looked amazing, but didn’t connect with any others once I had the deck in hand.

If you already have a favorite card, look at that particular card to see if you connect with the imagery.

Read at least one review of the deck. You can find reviews on mass online retailers like Amazon, along with YouTube review and unboxing videos, and blog posts about specific decks.

Check before You Buy

Read the details to be certain whether you’re buying a 78-card Tarot deck, a Tarot pip deck (56 cards of the Minor Arcana), Tarot Major Arcana only deck (22 cards), Lenormand deck (36 cards), or oracle deck (any number of cards, any topic).

For comparison, a full 78-card Tarot deck contains 22 numbered cards in the Major Arcana, the Fool (0) to the World (21), and 56 cards divided into 4 suits (Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands) 0 to 10 and the court cards, Page, Knight, Queen, and King. Note that some decks have different names for some of the Major Arcana (ex. Pope instead of Hierophant), the suits (ex. Pentacles as Discs or Coins), or the court cards (ex. Daughter or Apprentice instead of Page).

Where to Buy

Amazon, Llewellyn

Larger bookstores, used bookstores, and book exchanges

Local metaphysical shops

What’s Next?

If you’re ready to learn to read Tarot, consider joining my newest course, Tarot Foundations, a 4-week journey through the cards. We’ll cover the easiest way to learn Tarot, surefire methods to connect with your intuition, and how to read the cards confidently for yourself without a book. Seats are limited, so don’t miss out!