What Should Your First Tarot Deck Be?

Choosing your first Tarot deck to study and practice with can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of decks on the market. Most Tarot teachers recommend starting with the Rider-Waite deck or one similar to it, but everyone's different. How do you choose a Tarot deck that you'll love looking at and want to work with?

This quiz is designed to help you pick one you'll "click" with naturally. It suggests a deck to start with and gives at least one alternative for comparison. It also tells you how similar the deck is to the Rider-Waite Tarot, since most Tarot classes for beginners are based on the Rider-Waite Tarot tradition.

When you find the right Tarot deck, it will be love at first sight, and lasting love long after that! Which popular starter deck is right for you?
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Which interpretation of death resonates most with you?
Do you think it's important to have scenic pictures on the cards that illustrate their meanings? As an example, both of the cards pictured below are the 5 of Wands - same card, but the blue one illustrates the situation, and the yellow one uses abstract symbolism only.
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At the art museum, your must-see exhibit is:
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Choose a female leader:
Some readers prefer symmetrical card backs, and others prefer asymmetry so that they can tell if cards are upside-down without turning them over. Do you have a preference?
Your guardian spirit is probably:
Tarot symbolism comes from all sorts of cultures and religions; it's not unusual to see sphinxes and Norse gods in the same deck. However, some decks have a more consistent theme. Do you want a particular belief system incorporated strongly into your Tarot deck?

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Rider-Waite Tarot
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Many people refer to this deck as the "original" Tarot, even though Tarot cards were around for centuries before this deck came out. It was revolutionary because, for the first time, the minor arcana (aka suit cards) had scenes to illustrate the meanings. It's highly recommended for beginners, because it helps you sharpen your intuition, and most decks are based on its structure. Once you get a hang of the Rider-Waite, you'll be far less baffled by other decks. If you don't love the artwork, try the Universal Waite Deck or the Radiant Rider-Waite Tarot -- same cards, redone with modern style.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: 100%. Why, it is the Rider-Waite! Lucky you - the one deck everyone and their uncle tells you to start with actually resonates with you. Blessed!

Similar to this deck: There are a ton of Rider-Waite facsimiles. The Universal Waite Deck and the Radiant Rider-Waite are the most popular, faithful representations. The Smith-Waite Centennial Deck elevates the Rider-Waite by honoring the artist's original visions.

And if you want something closer to the true original Tarot by a couple centuries, check out the Tarot de Marseille or the even more oldschool Visconti Tarots -- but be warned, these two historic decks were designed before Waite & Smith started putting illustrations on the suit cards. The majority of the deck looks like a playing card deck, and might be challenging for beginners. That's part of why so many teachers recommend starting with the Rider-Waite instead.

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Morgan-Greer Tarot
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The Morgan-Greer Tarot is like a "zoomed in" version of the Rider-Waite. It gets rid of the big, blank backgrounds and instead focuses in on detail. This is particularly useful for helping you interpret facial expressions in the pictures. While mostly faithful to Rider-Waite tradition, the Death card has a lovely makeover, and there are slightly fewer obscure symbols thrown into the mix. This allows the reader to focus on the essential, unifying symbolism of the deck, instead of trying to decipher random shout-outs to various other symbolic systems.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Strong. Even if you take a class designed to be taught with the Rider-Waite, you'll follow along just fine with the Morgan-Greer.

Similar to this deck: The Robin Wood Tarotalso the Hanson-Roberts Tarot, which has detailed colored pencil illustrations instead of the broad swaths of color.

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Robin Wood Tarot
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This deck is popular among Wiccans and Neo-Pagans in the Celtic tradition for good reason. If you like Renaissance festivals or Celtic festivals, you'll probably dig the aesthetic. The illustrations are modern and relatable, even though the figures are dressed in old-timey garb. Much of the Christian imagery is replaced with scenes more attuned to Neo-Pagan sensibilities. The illustrations and facial expressions are clear enough to decipher, and the symbolism, while present, is not overly dense.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Strong. Even if you take a class designed to be taught with the Rider-Waite, you'll follow along just fine with the Robin Wood. It changes some of the Judeo-Christian imagery to images more evocative of Paganism.

Similar to this deck: The Hanson-Roberts Tarot is a beloved beginner deck that does its own take on the Rider-Waite without diverging from it too much. Also, The Morgan Greer Tarot.

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Haindl Tarot
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Well, aren't you fancy! Far from being intimidated by abstract art and ample symbolism, you revel in deciphering complex images. If you're learning Tarot for beginners, which is often based on Rider-Waite decks, you'll have to adjust the curriculum a little bit, because this deck deviates significantly. This won't be a problem for you, because you probably love learning in a self-directed way, and probably have zero self-control in the mythology section of your local book store. Also, the Haindl Tarot has strong internal logic, so if you like to flex your left brain while also exercising your intuition, this deck is for you.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Slight. It has the same structure as a Tarot deck (78 cards, 4 suits, major and minor Arcana, etc), but it does its own thing. You might be better off bringing this deck to a class based around the Thoth deck, rather than the Rider-Waite.

Similar to this deck: The Fountain Tarot has a similar aesthetic, but with more realistic and diverse human figures.

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Book of Thoth
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Maybe you've been told you're too smart for your own good. Certainly, when you get excited about something, you go into a sort of rapture talking about it, you chase it down the rabbit hole, into Wonderland, into Oz, into Narnia, ten times around the World Tree, then back to Neverland. You are always 93 steps ahead of everyone else. They say the Book of Thoth is not for the faint of heart. Thankfully, you're neither faint of heart nor dull of wit. Godspeed. You'll take these symbols apart and put 'em together again. You'll figure it out by yourself, and love that you never stop figuring.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Slight. It's a Tarot deck, anyhow. Mr. Crowley made several revisions to Mr. Waite's framework. There are three versions of The Magician. Strength is trump 11 (not 8) and Justice is trump 8 (not 11); Strength is renamed Lust, Temperance is renamed Art, etc. Each numbered suit card has a one-word description printed on it, and abstract art chock-full of symbols. I don't recommend taking the Thoth deck to a Rider-Waite based curriculum unless you're confident asking questions and learning independently.

Similar to this deck: The Hermetic Tarot is also chock full of symbols for occult junkies, but unlike the Thoth deck, it's black and white. In terms of colorful abstract art style, you might like The Haindl Tarot or The Fountain Tarot.

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Paulina Tarot
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If rainy days are your sunshine, and your ears perk up when you hear any Danny Elfman theme, try this deck on for size. The expressions of the figures in the Paulina Tarot deck often look mischievous -- which is fitting, for the fae. One of the things that makes this deck good for beginners is how well it conveys emotion via color and facial expression. Follow the fae, the Little People and their animal companions, on your path to unlock the secrets of the cards. The Paulina Tarot manages to be incredibly original and gorgeous without showing off. It's gracefully dark, and joyful, and sad, and kind, like Morticia Addams or Neil Gaiman.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Moderate. If you use this deck in a Tarot for Beginners class based around the Rider-Waite, you will find that it follows the structure to a T. You'll also find that your cards are way more detailed, containing fun little secrets for you to figure out.

Also by this artist: Spiritsong Tarot and Joie de Vivre Tarot 

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Mystic Faerie Tarot
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If you're a friend of the Fae, you may as well embrace it! For they will embrace you back, and it is a lovely embrace. They understand your sensitivity, your fluid and changing emotions, and your deep love of nature. Find yourself among the fae folk who bridge grounded earth and transient spirit. These lovely art nouveau-inspired  illustrations might remind you of the tales that soothed you to sleep as a child, and the same tales that inspire you to dream.

Similarity to Rider-Waite Tarot: Moderate. The structure of the deck and names of the cards follow the same rules. The illustrations take creative license, drawing you in to discover what the artist wants you to see. If you take a class based around Rider-Waite, you'll have to think about how the artist chose to translate "traditional" Tarot themes into their own style. Don't fret, though - the illustrations in the Mythic Faerie deck are a great guide!

Similar to this deck: Fans of Amy Brown will love Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's artwork in The Shadowscapes Tarot 

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Gaian Tarot
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Farmer's markets, drum circles, and meditation are your jam. Though you enjoy and require solitude to quiet your inner storms sometimes, you've broken through your emotional defenses and realized that we are all connected. As such, you understand there is nothing more valuable than our human and ecological communities. Everything you do is with the intention of honoring the Earth, and the divine energy in us all. Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle of daily life, you need a reminder to refocus on that intention. That's where the Gaian Tarot comes in.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Moderate. Suits are named after the elements. A few Major Arcana names are changed. The illustrations show contemporary scenes and take creative license, to a positive effect. The guidebook is stupendously useful for spiritual health, regardless of your religious/spiritual affiliation (or lack thereof).

Similar to this deck: Modern Spellcasters for those who love wild nature, and Urban Tarot for those who love the wild city

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Aquarian Tarot
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A beautiful deck with a distinct art deco style with clear East Asian influences, though the pictures show European Renaissance figures in keeping with Tarot tradition. High contrast, bold images bring the symbols to your attention. Images are really zoomed in on the main action, making facial expressions easier to see. This is a deck you'll fall in love with at first sight, and you'll discover many messages in the seemingly minimalist style.

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Strong. Even if you take a class designed to be taught with the Rider-Waite, you'll follow along just fine with the Robin Wood.

Similar to this deck: People love the Aquarian Deck's uniqueness - it is truly distinct. However, the Hanson-Roberts deck is also strongly similar to the Rider-Waite and, like the Aquarian Deck, it has detailed facial features and interesting perspectives. The Sun & Moon Tarot is minimalistic and uniquely stylistic like the Aquarian deck, but unlike the Aquarian deck, the figures in Sun & Moon represent people of different races. Love Art Nouveau? Check out the Illuminated Tarot by Matt Hughes or the beautiful Mucha Tarot.

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Golden Tarot
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Authentic Renaissance art that isn't from the Renaissance? That's the magic of collage, my friend. This deck takes Renaissance masterworks and rearranges them to convey Tarot meanings. This is particularly useful for Renaissance history lovers who want to learn card meanings, because decks that were made back then had far fewer clues as to their meaning. Geek moment: that's because back in the Renaissance, Tarot decks were for playing cards. Telling fortunes was a secondary function. With the Golden Tarot, historical style meets contemporary function.

Similarity to the Rider-Waite: Moderate. The artist does a great job constructing Tarot images from deconstructed Renaissance paintings. You'll see a lot more Renaissance motifs, including angels and obvious Christian iconography.

Also by this artist: Touchstone Tarot

Similar to this deck:
Make everyone jelli of your Botticelli! The Golden Botticelli Tarot is a favorite of Renaissance art lovers.

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Fenestra Tarot
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Soft, watery illustrations are somewhat reminiscent of the Aquarian Tarot, but this one has less black and more warm earth tones. The contrast and saturation in this one are subtle, giving it a gentle feel. The artwork combines classical Asian styles - the pale, expressive faces - with a modern anime style, and it also gives a shoutout to art nouveau. The pictures are zoomed in and framed. Lovely roses grace the backs of the cards and the frames in the Major Arcana. 

Similarity to the Rider-Waite: Moderate to strong. You should have no trouble using this deck in a class based on the Rider-Waite. The Moon is very different, but that's just one card out of 78. The rest of the cards are similar enough in substance, even though they're very different in style.

Similar to this deck: The Crystal Visions Tarot similarly puts a modern spin on the deck using watercolor illustrations. Love Art Nouveau? Check out the Illuminated Tarot by Matt Hughes or the beautiful Mucha Tarot.

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Gilded Tarot
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Breathtaking and bright-colored digital images make this deck stand out from the rest. This deck is a cosmic circus and a showstopper. There are circus performers, Greek gods and goddesses, knights and Renaissance period folk, and modern-day people. Not every artist could get away with mixing so many cultural references willy-nilly, but this deck is so good for beginners that it's sold as a special package called "Easy Tarot: Learn to Read the Cards Once and For All." 

Similarity to Rider-Waite Tarot: Moderate. It definitely takes some departures from traditional Tarot imagery, but the reasons behind these artistic choices should be clear. Even if you're taking a Rider-Waite class, the differences between your deck and the teacher's deck will probably make things easier for you, not harder. Creative composition and clear facial expressions give this deck personality.

Also by this artist: Legacy of the Divine Tarot has a similar style, with figures that seem to invite you into the mysteries they contain. Tarot of Dreams has a gorgeous aesthetic that's both surreal and accessible at the same time.

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World Spirit Tarot
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These distinctive, fun cards are bold and beautiful. They celebrate diversity by showing humans of all shapes, colors, and genders. There are deities and landscapes from all over the world, too. Bright, saturated colors fill in the heavy black outlines. In my opinion, if there were a Tarot deck representing New Orleans, with its multiculturalism, rich heritage(s), and unapologetic jazziness, this would be it. If you love diversity as a reality and not just as a buzzword, welcome to the club and enjoy learning Tarot on this deck!

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Moderate. Some cards follow the Rider-Waite design quite faithfully, and others reinterpret the designs to show a different cultural angle. Like the Gaian Tarot, the court cards have different names showing spiritual authority, instead of royal ranks. If you're open-minded -- and you probably are if you dig this deck -- you should be able to make the connections, even if you're taking a class based on the Rider-Waite deck.

Similar to this deck: You might just love the vivid, creative imagery of Tarot of the Four Elements. Or, if you like decks that challenge convention, try the classic, feminist Motherpeace Tarot. The Urban Tarot is just as radically diverse and it brings a realistic art style, but it's hard to get your hands on as of this writing.

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Modern Spellcaster's Tarot
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This aptly named deck is ideal for modern spellcasters. Beautiful images depict realistic, everyday people as well as high fantasy art. Lovers of nature with cosmopolitan sensibility will love this deck. So will down-to-earth nerds, who like escaping into fantasy and visions as much as we care for the Earth and its creatures. Same-sex couples and people of color are portrayed as equals, not exotic exceptions, which is refreshing.

Similar to this deck: If you're a spellcaster, chances are you might be a witch, so try The Witches Tarot on for size. The Gaian Tarot appeals to nature lovers and those in tune with the elements. The Urban Tarot brings a similar aesthetic to city scenes, but as of this writing it's hard to get your hands on a copy.

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Druid Craft Tarot
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This gorgeous deck is ideal for Pagans in Wiccan or Celtic traditions. Druidic teachings are presented alongside the mythology and lore of the British Isles. Nature-lovers will marvel at the realistic textures of water and stone, clouds and plant life. 

Similarity to Rider-Waite: Moderate. The figures are similar enough to the Rider-Waite that a learner of Tarot needs only bridge the traditional Tarot imagery with the Druidic lessons contained therein. Comparing the two side by side shows they're not that different; only different in the ways that make the deck more inviting to those in the Celtic pagan traditions.

Similar to this deck: The Wildwood Tarot is another favorite of Celtic pagans, with a similar style of artwork and Druidic aesthetic. More modern decks that appeal to the Pagan crowd especially include the Witches Tarot and the Modern Spellcasters Tarot.

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