Top 5 Tarot Decks for Beginners
Anastasia’s Guide to Choosing Your First Tarot Deck
1450 words / Read time 7 minutes
So many decks out there! Here’s a little guide to help you decide …
Ever since I started teaching Misteri dei Tarocchi classes, people ask me what deck is best for beginners. Tarot is so personal there is no one size fits all but here’s a little help to pick the right tarot deck for you.
The four most influential tarot decks of all time are:
Visconti-Sforza (circa 1490s)
Tarot De Marseille (circa 1600s)
Rider-Waite-Smith (circa 1910)
Book of Thoth (circa 1944)
Pretty much every Tarot deck owes its DNA to one of these decks. I’m not counting oracle decks or hybrid tarot-oracles here – just classic Tarot.
Rider Waite Smith (RWS) is hands-down the most popular deck in history. Pamela Coleman Smith (PCS) revolutionized Tarot by fully illustrating the 40 Number cards. It was also the first deck designed expressly for divination. Earlier decks were originally used for playing a game called Tarocchi and only gradually came to be used for Divination. Rider Waite Smith was not only the first deck to illustrate the Pips with richly evocative symbolism, but its creators (AE Waite & Pamela Coleman Smith) put an incredible amount of occult research and symbolism into making a deck whose primary purpose would be divination rather than games.
RWS is the deck most often recommended for beginners. But that being said, there are so many versions and clones of this deck … which one is right for you?
Tarot on the Go
When you’re starting out, it’s great to have a deck you can just throw into a purse or backpack and have it with you to practice whenever you want. Just looking at the cards will help you learn them. If you have cards with you on your commute or during breaks, it’s easy to grab a few moments for Tarot. These decks are also budget-friendly because you won’t have to buy an extra box or pouch to keep them in. If you have small hands, smaller tarot cards are easier to shuffle, too.
RWS Centennial Edition in a tin
This deck uses PCS’s original artwork colorized with muted vintage-looking tones. It’s my personal favorite. The deck comes in a tin which is pretty much bullet-proof. This is my go-to working deck.
Universal Waite pocket tarot deck
Mary Hanson Roberts re-drew and re-colorized PCS’s artwork to create this version. The deck has beautiful vibrant colors with subtle shading and it’s a faithful reproduction of RWS. It comes in a sturdy cardboard box. I’ve had mine four years and the box is still in good condition.
Morgan Greer Tarot in a tin
If you find the original RWS artwork doesn’t resonate with you then this little deck in a tin is a good choice. Originally published in the 1970s Morgan Greer Tarot is one of the first ever RWS “clones”. It follows RWS symbolism but the artwork is more modern and uses beautiful saturated colors. The deck reminds me of stained glass. Morgan Greer Tarot is borderless which brings the images to life.
Pocket Thoth Tarot
Toth Tarot Deck isn’t my first recommendation for beginners. It’s pretty complex to start your learning curve. But If you find yourself drawn to the compelling cubist artwork of Frida Harris or the teachings of Aleister Crowley, this deck is perfect for Tarot on the Go.
Standard Size Tarot Decks
Standard Tarot cards are larger than playing cards. They can be difficult to shuffle! But pick a larger deck if you want to see all the symbolic details without squinting. These decks are great to examine the wealth of symbolism in the cards.
Larger decks aren’t as budget-friendly. Most US Games standard-size tarot decks come in a flimsy box which is actually annoying to take-out and put-away your cards. You’ll want to buy or make a box or pouch to carry your cards.
RWS Centennial Edition
This is the same as the pocket edition, but standard size. I love this deck so much I have both. I take the tin with me to work where I read for clients but keep the standard size at home for my personal readings.
For years this was the only deck available. It’s the one I learned on. Personally, I’m over the plaid backside of the cards. But this deck has its fans. It’s PCS’s original artwork rendered with bright primary colors. If the Centennial Edition colors seem too muted for your taste, you might prefer RWS classic.
Golden Universal Tarot
This deck is published by Lo Sarabeo who has a reputation for making beautiful eye-candy tarot decks. It’s a pretty faithful rendition of RWS drawn by Roberto De Angelis. The border is black and the cards feature metallic colorization. Altogether Golden Universal Tarot looks & feels elegant.
Boxed Sets – Giving Tarot as a Gift
If you want to give someone the gift of Tarot, boxed sets are a nice way to go! The price-tag is heftier, but you’ll get an attractive packaged Tarot Cards + Book set to present as a gift. While the books that come with these sets might not be the most ideal learning tool, it’s still more complete than just giving Tarot cards alone.
Legacy of the Divine Tarot & Book Boxed Set
My all-time favorite tarot deck is Legacy of the Divine by digital artist Ciro Marchetti. Marchetti has earned well-deserved fame in Tarot circles for creating beautiful eye-candy decks. Marchetti often departs from traditional RWS symbolism, so I can’t say his decks are best for beginners, but Legacy of the Divine Tarot stays pretty faithful to RWS. Marchetti’s color symbolism is spot-on. It really helps set the tone and mood for each of the four Suits.
The book contains a fanciful back-story to the deck which is fun to read - albeit fictional. The card meanings are presented as commentaries by Marchetti and three other Tarot writers. I don’t agree with everything they say, but Legacy of the Divine Tarot is truly beautiful and the book will at least get a beginner started. If you’re giving it to someone who enjoys reading fantasy, the story book will be a plus.
The Golden Tarot Visconti-Sforza Deck & book by Mary Packard
This is a lovely boxed set which reproduces the historic Visconti-Sforza deck. It includes a hardcover book and a reading cloth. The book offers a detailed history of Visconti-Sforza tarot plus meanings for the 78 cards.
It’s hard to recommend this deck for beginners because it lacks pictorial illustrations of the 40 Number cards and the card size is too large to shuffle. The reading cloth is a small piece of purple satin which only holds four cards – it’s no good for a 10-card spread.
So why do I even mention it?
If you know someone who’s a history buff or does Renaissance re-enactment this is a great package. Even after 40 years of studying Tarot, I was impressed with the history in Packard’s book. The box is quite sturdy and has a magnetic closure. Altogether it’s elegant and will appeal to SCA folks and Renaissance history aficionados.
RWS Centennial Edition Pamela Coleman Smith Commemorative Set
This package contains the RWS Centennial edition deck with the lovely muted vintage tones and flower motif on the card backs. It also includes other examples of PCS’s artwork and a booklet about her life. The enclosed book is the Pictorial Key to the Tarot by AE Waite originally published in 1911. While I can’t recommend this book as the best learning tool for beginners, it is the original book written to go with the cards. The RWS Centennial deck is a perfect deck for beginners and whoever receives the gift will probably use it for years to come. The set also comes with a little pouch for the cards.
I hope this guide has helped you decide what is most important to you and which deck is best for your personal needs. And now, as promised (drum roll) …
Top 5 Tarot Decks for Beginners
1. RWS Centennial Edition Tarot in a Tin
2. Lo Scarabeo Golden Universal Tarot
3. RWS Centennial Edition Pamela Coleman Smith Commemorative Set
4. Legacy of the Divine Tarot Set by Ciro Marchetti
5. Universal Waite Pocket Tarot
If you’re interested in learning Tarot, check out Misteri dei Tarocchi Complete Tarot Course with Anastasia
Copyright 2019 by Anastasia Katsikaris. All rights reserved. If you want to share this article please give attribution to the author and a link to this site.