I own a lot of Tarot decks. Some were sent to me so that I could review them on the blog, others were gifts, but for the most part, these are decks that I bought because I saw them online, fell in love with the artwork, and felt that I had to have them. The problem is, I have so many decks by now that it’s impractical for me to use all of them consistently. I used to deliberately cycle through my decks as I read, making sure that each one was getting equal time, but my collection was around 60 decks the last time I bothered to count, and using every one of them becomes impractical after a certain point. I’d have to have a schedule on an Excel spreadsheet, and that just doesn’t feel organic.
So these days, when I read Tarot I usually find myself reaching for one of a few favorite decks in my collection. Today, I wanted to talk through which decks those are. Please note: This is not a list of what I think are the best Tarot decks, the most interesting, innovative, or useful. There are several decks I absolutely adore for their art, and that I probably actually like better than some of the decks on this list, but that I don’t consistently read with; for that reason, they didn’t make the cut, even though I love them. This list is just looking at the extremely practical question: Which decks do I actually use?
You’ll notice that my deck choices are actually quite conservative. None of the decks on here are experimental or pushing the limits of what Tarot can be. A couple of them are “classic” decks. Understand, this is not to say that I don’t like the experimental decks—on the contrary, I think it’s really great to drive Tarot forward and use it for new things. But at the same time, the classics are classic for a reason. All of the decks on this list are here because they work. They have good artwork, and they’re easy to use in readings, so it’s a pleasure to reach for them when I have a question that needs to be answered.
As a final note, WordPress’s block editor is absolute garbage, so the formatting on this post may be all kinds of screwed up, especially if you’re reading on mobile. Forgive me. I promise, I really did try.
5 – The Shadowscapes Tarot
The Shadowscapes was the first deck I acquired when I made the conscious decision to become a deck collector. Prior to that, I had four working decks that I used in rotation, but I was so in love with Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s artwork that I felt I had to have this deck. Years later, I’m still in love. Every image in this deck is an extraordinary, detailed painting, and far more detailed than you typically find in Tarot. The color palette is muted and delicate, and the whole world of the deck has a soft fantasy feeling to it.
Although it’s firmly RWS in its card meanings and inspiration, this is the most non-traditional deck on this list. The others are going to be, for the most part, classic decks or clones thereof, and you won’t see anything as unique or inspired as the Shadowscapes. But when I’m itching for something a little bit different, I reach for this deck, because reading with it is just as beautiful as the cards themselves.
4 – The Anna K Tarot
Ye Gods, I love this deck. It’s the perfect blend of tradition and innovation for my tastes: Every card is unmistakably inspired by RWS symbolism, but has something new and different to say about it. I’ve owned the deck for years, and even now, my breath is taken away when I look at that High Priestess card. The people are warm and approachable, and the setting of the deck is vaguely late medieval/early Renaissance in a way that works well with Tarot symbolism.
And the colors. As much as I appreciate the delicate, muted colors of the Shadowscapes deck, I will always be one for the bright and bold. The colors in the Anna K deck seize me and captivate me. Reading with this deck is just… Easy. I turn over the cards and they always tell a story. I always know exactly what they’re going to say.
3 – The Morgan-Greer Tarot
The things I love about this deck are very similar to the things I love about Anna K. It has rich, vibrant colors (I’m a sucker for vibrant colors, y’all), strong RWS symbolism, and clear, readable artwork. The cards are just different enough from RWS to be interesting, without being so different that they don’t look like they fit.
Morgan-Greer is one of those decks that I like to just have around. When I’m doing a reading on short notice—when I’m hanging out with someone and suddenly there’s a question and we need a Tarot reading—this is often what I reach for. It’s also a superb deck for beginners, because the imagery is just so clean and straightforward. Bonus points for the mustachioed Magician and one of the best Nine of Pentacles cards of any deck I own.
2 – The Golden Universal Tarot
Y’all. It’s the RWS deck, but gilded. As much as I love bright, bold colors, I am even more of a sucker for GOLD. I first encountered this deck watching the Tina Fey movie Wine Country on Netflix. The movie itself was fun but nothing to write home about, but there was a scene with a Tarot reader who used this deck. I freaked out. I had to have this deck. I opened my phone and had bought the deck online before the scene finished.
The Golden Universal Tarot remains one of my top two decks. I just love everything about it. It’s a straight-up RWS clone, with Pamela Colman-Smith’s original drawings, but the several details (the cups, the pentacles, etc.) are gilded, as are the backgrounds of many of the cards. The gilding is hard to see in this picture, but trust me. It’s super shiny. This deck is a bit extra and not for wallflowers, but I couldn’t love it more.
1 – The Thoth Tarot
For those who follow my blog, the number 1 choice will come as no surprise. A couple of years ago, I hit a wall with Tarot. I was feeling frustrated, lackluster, and bored. I needed something new and exciting to do. So I decided to commit to reading with the Thoth deck for a full year. The year came and went… And I kept using the deck. I came to love everything about the Thoth deck. It’s bold, interesting, and sometimes jarring, but it’s also much more talkative than I had ever expected it would be. Reading with the Thoth system is actually extremely straightforward; there’s additional esoteric symbolism that can complicate the reading if you want it to, but it’s also very easy just to look at the cards and say, “Ah, Love followed by Ruin. Well, that’s pretty clear.”
Lady Freida Harris’s art can be off-putting for a lot of people, and I totally understand why. But personally, I dig the art. Admittedly, I like art deco, which helps, but there’s something quite powerful and evocative about the images in the Thoth deck.
This is my go-to reading deck. Four times out of five, I’ll read with the Thoth these days. I had never expected to turn into a primarily Thoth-based reader, but hey, life is funny sometimes.