I’m coming to you today with a review of a deck I’ve been anticipating for ages: Robin Scott’s Urban Tarot, published by US Games. This deck, much like Courtney Weber’s Tarot of the Boroughs, is a love letter to New York City. Its cards are replete with images of famous New York landmarks and attractions, but also with depictions of ordinary people living their lives in the greatest city in the universe.*
The inside of the deck box reads:
You have been told that there is no magic in your city. You have been told that your world is grey, cold, and sterile. You have heard that the time of miracles has passed, that the wondrous has been forgotten.
What do you believe?
This deck promises to impart the wonder and magic of the city, and it delivers on that promise. It’s a stunning, richly colored Tarot deck illustrated in a vaguely Cubist style; each card looks like a painting that could be found hanging in the Whitney Museum.
This deck is loosely in the Thoth tradition. All the cards have Thoth names (e.g. Key XIV is “Art”, the Court hierarchy runs from Knight through Princess, and all the Minor Arcana have keyword titles). The Thoth inspiration is clearer in the Minors, which can get a bit pippy, but in the Major Arcana we see the influence of the city much more than the influence of Aleister Crowley or Lady Frieda Harris.
It’s a beautiful, workable deck for any reader, but many subtle artistic choices will make anyone familiar with New York smile. The Chariot as a yellow taxicab is perfect. The Aeon (Judgment in the RWS tradition) is Ellis Island. Strength, which I’ve not pictured here, shows a woman embracing one of the stone lions in front of the New York Public Library. This really is a New Yorker’s Tarot deck.
A ridiculous, childlike grin broke out on my face when I saw that the Six of Wands is the finish line of the New York Marathon. It’s just perfect.
The Minor Arcana are loosely organized around shared color schemes, but the color associations are not hard-and-fast. There are a lot of reds and oranges in the Wands, for example, but the Four and Nine of Wands are depicted in much cooler tones of purple and blue.
This deck also features, in quite a casual and unobtrusive way, a lovely amount of diversity. We see a variety of racial backgrounds represented, and some gentle nods to LGBT+ inclusivity. The Four of Cups appears to be a gay couple, and the Ten of Cups is a lesbian couple (one of whom appears to be pregnant) at Pride.
Readers who aren’t familiar with the Thoth system, or who don’t like reading with unillustrated pips, may struggle with some of the Minor Arcana. They are fully illustrated in evocative ways (see the particularly gruesome image on the Three of Swords as an example), but they are unquestionably Thoth-style pips. Many do not feature human characters in any way. They are more readable than the actual Thoth pips, because the card images are still embedded in a modern-day context;** for example, the Four of Swords (titled “Truce”) shows the United Nations General Assembly chamber. Plus, the titles at the tops of the cards can help a novice reader acclimatize to the Thoth system, where some cards have markedly different meanings from the RWS. Nonetheless, this is something to consider if you’re thinking of buying this deck.
And seriously. I can’t emphasize enough how charming I find all the New York references peppered through the deck. The Ten of Disks as the Diamond District? The Ace of Disks as the Atlas at Rockefeller Center? I just love it all—and most importantly, it all works as a Tarot deck. There are a couple of cards (off the top of my head, the Six of Swords, the Knight of Cups, and Death) that I’m ambivalent about, but on the whole, I think Scott has done a tremendous job translating New York into the language of Tarot.
As a final detail: All of the Court Cards have been given additional titles, based on the personalities they embody and the lives they might live in the city. Above, you can see the Knight of Cups is the Seducer. Some of my favorite others include the Princess of Swords as the Activist, the Queen of Wands as the Public Defender, and the Queen of Cups as the Therapist.
I love this deck. It is absolutely everything I had hoped it would be, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It’s a joyous celebration of Tarot, New York, and art—and I cannot imagine anything better than that.
*Disagree? Fight me.
**I cackled when I saw TV static as the visual representation of the Eight of Swords, which is called “Interference” in the Thoth tradition. Fantastic. Charming. Absolutely friggin’ delightful.