If tarot was a swimming pool it would all be the deep end. With 78 cards in a deck (suck it poker) and each card steeped in unique and allusive images and history, it can be a bewildering experience trying to choose your first set. After all, it’s a tool you hope to use frequently, building it into your routine and lifestyle. Although this choice is extremely personal, there are a few general tips and recommendations that I’ve picked up while practicing with and collecting decks that could help you find a first deck that’s right for you.
Respect the pips
Almost every deck has illustrated major arcana. From The High Priestess to The Magician, The Hierophant to The Fool - these are 22 cards whose imagery even your most conservative aunt could probably pick out of a line up. However, it’s best to get a deck whose minor arcana or ‘pip’ cards are also illustrated. This practice was popularized by the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, around a century ago and its introduction changed the tarot game for good.
Pamela Coleman-Smith, the deck’s illustrator, created artwork for the minor arcana which adds a depth of symbolism that is extremely helpful in your reading. A blindfolded woman under a waning moon holds the two of swords, placing reflection and balance at the forefront whereas the three of swords shows the blades skewering an archetypal heart - it’s not difficult to remember the heartbreak and tribulation this card represents. Although many people do read decks without illustrated minor arcana, it helps when learning and quickly builds depth and complexity into your reading.
Buy the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck here: https://www.treadwells-london.com/product-page/rider-waite-tarot-deck
Love the way it looks
You’ll be looking at these cards a lot, both when you are learning their meanings and quirks and when you are getting into the swing of reading tarot, whether this is just for yourself or for your wider circle. For this reason, it’s hard for me to recommend any one deck in particular. The busy, self-proclaimed ‘boho’ feel of the the Light-Seers deck appeals to some whereas the Moon Void deck holds a stripped-down simplicity that resonates with others.
My personal favourite which I am using in readings more and more is The Modern Witch Tarot deck. Designed by comic artist Lisa Sterle, it is a fresh, modern reimagining of the Rider-Waite-Smith pattern. The figures are all women and non-binary, dressed in glamorous modern clothing, engaging with and surrounded by symbols of the 21st century. Crucially though, the deck appeals to me and seeing its bright and vibrant colours next to my cup of tea each morning never fails to put me in the right headspace to read.
Buy the Modern Witch Tarot Deck here: https://liminal11.com/product/the-modern-witch-tarot-standard-edition/
Break away from what you know
Before long you’ll find yourself settling into a deck like an old pair of shoes. It might be tea stained and fraying at the edges but its yours. While it is great to cherish this deck, don’t be afraid to try something new. Most modern decks use Rider-Waite-Smith as their pattern (and with good reason) but with so many different approaches to tarot out there you’re missing out on a lot without considering different patterns and approaches.
The Moon Power Deck by Charlie Quintero is one which certainly breaks the mould. At once eerie and tongue in cheek, it draws completely new illustrations for the standard 78 card deck, letting your readings go to new places and challenging you to grow as you practice. You could even move backwards from Rider-Waite-Smith, reading the 18th century Aliette Deck or the Visconti-Sforza deck from renaissance Milan. You’ll probably struggle as there’s only one in existence but you could. The world of tarot decks is huge and once you get going it can be hard to stop.
Buy the Moon Power Tarot Deck here: https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/804291185/preorder-moon-power-tarot-deck?ref=nla_shop_details-2
Go with your gut
All this is, of course, just advice. Your personal practice should reflect your personal preferences and instincts. If you see a deck you’ve got to have, have it. Sometimes its good to ignore the experiences of strangers on the internet and go with your first thoughts. It’s the right mindset which counts, after all. So get out there, get your decks, and start reading.