All tarot readers need a tarot deck. There are many decks to choose from, so picking a deck for the first time can be intimidating.
My number one tip is to go with a deck that is based on the Rider-Waite-Smith system (the first card mentioned).
My second tip is the physical feeling of the cards, meaning size and cardstock quality. You want a size that feels good in your hands and is easy to handle, and the material that the card is made of to be sturdy.
Most decks come with their own little instruction manual, with some basic interpretations and guidelines.
Choice #1: The Rider-Waite or the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot
The Rider-Waite tarot is probably the best-known deck for many reasons: It was the first deck to provide images for the cards of the Minor Arcana. Before this, the Minor Arcana looked very much like a deck of playing cards: The Ace of Cups had one cup, the Two of Wands had two cups, etc, etc.
This deck has different variations of the name, so let’s clarify that right now. Rider is for the original publishing company, Waite is the deck creator. The official name for the deck is the Rider-Waite-Tarot. Many people use Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot to refer to this deck, to offer recognition to the illustrator Pamela Colman Smith.
Most of tarot beginners’ material are based on this deck as well. Printing wasn’t as accessible as it was now, so not many printing companies were printing tarot cards due to its small market. Alongside this, it was also more difficult for writers to get published because of Tarot being such a small niche, so most published writers use the Rider-Waite deck in their writings for accessibility. A vast majority of physical and digital materials that discuss tarot are based on symbols and interpretations of this deck, a deck that is an artistic reinterpretation of this one, or a deck that used the Rider-Waite-Smith as the basis for the symbols used.
Unlike most decks, it is available in many sizes. Smaller cards facilitate travel, while larger ones facilitate instruction. You can find them below from smallest to biggest:
Miniature Rider Waite Tarot Deck – They are about the size of business cards, and this link is great because there are people who took really clear pictures to illustrate how small these cards are.
Pocket Rider-Waite Tarot Deck – This deck is the size of playing cards. Many professional readers like to use this size with their clients. The average person has difficulty shuffling a standard sized tarot deck so using this size prevents accidental damage to card shuffling.
The Standard-size, Rider Waite Tarot Deck – This is the regular-sized deck.
Giant Rider-Waite Tarot Deck – This is the super fun giant-sized deck. This is great for meditation and visualization work, and instruction.
While there have been many productions of this deck, the cardstock (something very important for you to consider) is consistently strong and can endure vigorous shuffling.
Choice #2: The Hanson-Roberts Tarot
This deck features softer colors and is sized a little bigger than regular playing cards but smaller than the standard tarot deck size, making shuffling more manageable for small hands. Hanson-Roberts also stayed very close to the RWS system, with a slight nod to medieval imagery, but also feels fairy-tale inspired. The best part about this deck (IMO) is that the images are very approachable and invite your curiosity to explore further. You want to know what the cards mean, and then this opens the door for deeper connections with the deck.
Hanson-Roberts Tarot – a favorite of many seasoned tarot readers, with card titles in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
Choice #3 – Morgan-Greer Tarot
I chose this deck in direct contrast to the Hanson-Roberts deck featured above. The colors are deeper and more saturated to allow for emotional reactions during readings. The frame pushes right up into the characters’ faces allowing for a closer perspective to ruminate on the human reaction. Ethnic diversity is also celebrated in this deck which I love.
Some readers really appreciate that this deck is borderless and that the card titles aren’t as prominent as in other decks. It has everything you need from a tarot deck for beginners, especially those who want to really commit to intuitive readings.
Morgan-Greer Tarot – is available here with more images, in the standard tarot deck size.
Morgan-Greer Tarot in a Tin – The deck is also available in the tin box to facilitate storage and protecting your cards.
Choice #4 – The Wheel of the Year Tarot
This really great deck takes the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and takes it closer to nature and the cycles of the four seasons. Because it is so steeped in color and symbolism, this deck will really connect with those who embrace paganism or are more sensitive to natural seasons.
The Wheel of the Year Tarot – The suits are divided into four seasons but the traditional connections and elemental associations are still there and represented.
Important to note: There is some nudity in this deck. For some people this isn’t a problem – I would expect nudity from a deck that celebrates nature. For others, it is a huge turn-off. You have the information now, do as you will with it. Reguardless this is a great tarot deck for beginners.
Choice #5 – The Aquarian Tarot Deck
This deck made the list because it is my personal tarot deck. It peaked my interest in tarot and it still remains my main deck today. The deck has an Art Deco decorative style, so the colors seem carefully used and bordered with various widths. The result is your gaze is guided around the image in a certain way. The Major Arcana is much more heavily illustrated than the Minor Arcana, showing the clear division between the two and stressing the necessary importance on the Major Arcana.
I really appreciate the emotional reactions that are inspired by the cards. The faces are seen straight on, but it feels like they are looking through you and past you. Some cards are so lonely and so discouraging, some are inspiring and insist on reflection, while some are silly and humorous (the Nine of Cups below for example). The popularity of this deck isn’t as strong as the other cards mentioned, but this deck is an awesome example of a tarot deck for beginners.
Aquarian Tarot Deck – As with all the other others on this list, this deck is based on the RWS, but with Spanish-Moorish influences.
Aquarian Tarot Deck in a Tin: Packaged in a tin box, to facilitate storage and travel.
***The New Palladini Tarot is a deck created by David Palladini who also created the Aquarian Tarot Deck. This is definitely worth looking at as well.