I started my Tarot journey over 20 years ago; I didn’t know which deck to get. (And since then, the number of amazing Tarot Decks has increased 100x!). It was a big decision that impacted how I read Tarot.
Since then, I have worked with over 25 decks and even created my own. I’ve learned a lot about what makes a deck helpful to beginners.
In this article, I am going to share advice from myself and other professional readers on which deck to start with. I’ll give you concrete reasons and links to decks you pick up today.
What Tarot deck should I start with?
78% of Professional Tarot Readers suggest that beginners start with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck because it is the foundational imagery used by many other decks. There are, however, some alternatives that can be helpful when starting with the Tarot.
When you are first getting started with Tarot Reading, you might be drawn to the latest and flashy deck. You must follow your inspiration, but there is also something to be gained by going back to the source and working with the source.
There are, however, some great alternative decks for beginners.
In the rest of this article, I will be discussing the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck and other Tarot decks you can get started with.
Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS): One of the best decks to start with
The Rider-Waite-Smith has the most iconic images and has become the template for most newer decks.
Because it’s so universal, making it a great deck to start with.
Why start with the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck:
- The symbols are the foundation of many other decks.
- Many youtube videos and books use the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) cards as examples. Using the deck can help you when learning from one of these sources.
- The imagery of the RWS is very simple and easy to read. More complex decks are better once you have the basics.
- It’s classic and has a history.
Here is an example of the RWS versus another deck:
The three of wands is generally seen as progress, foresight, opportunities, and moving forward.
When looking at these three, it is a lot easier for me to get that meaning from the Rider-Waite-Smith.
I get lost looking at the Deviant Moon deck and would feel there is some sinister intent. The Linestrider deck is beautiful, but none of the imagery would help me understand what the meaning is.
Here is a video from Glinda’s Guidance on why the Rider-Waite-Smith deck is great for beginners:
What Makes A Good Tarot Card Deck For Beginners?
Now that we have looked at why the Rider-Waite-Smith is a good beginner deck, let’s look at what criteria we could use to pick another good deck for a beginner.
Here are the opt things to look for in your first deck:
- Mmeaning of the cards must be easy to pick up just by looking at the imagery.
- Cards meanings should also match up with the classic definitions you will see in most Tarot books. Some guidebooks and art take the card in a totally different direction. This can be helpful when you have a basic understanding but can confuse you if you are just getting started.
- Images should be simple, and not look like real-life people. It is really disarming when a character looks like your mother, friend, or coworker and can disrupt your reading. Having simple artwork that is more open to interpretation is important.
- A good guidebook is essential. Many Tarot decks do not come with a guidebook (maybe that small paper one), but it could be worth the investment if the deck has a great guidebook. No matter what deck you get, you should probably get a book for beginners.
There are also some good reasons why you wouldn’t want to use the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck.
The number one is symbols of patriarchy, whitewashing, and outdated beliefs.
The Rider-Waite-Smith deck is full of Christian values, white people, hetero-normative relationships… and the list goes on.
Many people are drawn to more modern decks, like The Modern Witch Tarot, because they reflect diversity and personal values better.
I personally suggest people work with the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck at first and try and see it for what it is, a relic of the past with many fundamental issues within its imagery, and later move on to decks that better fit their personality.
That being said… if the imagery of the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck is too triggering, then, by all means, get a different deck. It’s more important that you start reading Tarot than it is sticking to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
With all this in mind, let’s look at alternatives to the Rider-Waite-Smith Deck.
5 Best Tarot Decks to Start Reading with
Here are my top picks for new Tarot Readers.
1. The Modern Witch Tarot
The Modern Witch Tarot is an amazing first deck for anyone looking for a more inclusive and female-focused deck.
The imagery still stays true to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck and makes it easier for beginners reading different books on Tarot.
You can also purchase a Journal with the deck to help you on your learning path.
The deck has only female characters, so it might not be the best choice for men or those that want other gender representation in their deck.
2. Arcana Iris Sacra Tarot Deck
I love the artwork in this deck. It is so simple yet elegant, and it also doesn’t feel as steeped in archaic ideas of Christianity.
The artwork is a little more “advanced” and might be harder to learn.
But what makes up for it is the labyrinthos app for ios and android. It has a lot of resources for learning the Tarot, including quizzes and study guides.
Check out the deck here
3. BOTA Deck – Color your own
The BOTA deck is pretty similar to the RWS deck, except you get to color it in yourself, and this gives you more control over the diversity of the deck. It still has the classic imagery, but adding your personality to the deck can bring a lot of value.
I love this deck because it’s one of the best ways to explore the imagery behind the Tarot. By coloring in the card, you will have a deeper understanding of its meaning.
The deck also has instructions on what colors to use and why. This opens up a whole new understanding of the classic imagery of the Tarot.
That being said, this isn’t the best deck for constant use. The cardstock is very light and won’t last a long time. The minor cards are too simplistic and don’t use the RWS system.
If you want to learn the majors and use another deck for actual readings, this is a great choice.
This deck can also be hard to find, so here is an alternative: Color Your Own Tarot
The artwork is a little more complex and strays from the RWS, but it’s still a great way to get to know the Tarot.
4. Light Seers Tarot
I absolutely adore the imagery of this deck. It speaks to a more modern interpretation of the Tarot and has such a whimsical spirit.
The author also has a free journal you can download if you share the receipt for the order.
I might suggest this as a second deck and not your first. The reason being the imagery strays from the RWS system and might make it harder to pick up future decks. I also found that a few cards were much more engaging as artwork than archetypal symbols.
This can make it hard when you are first starting off.
The big advantage to this deck, though is the inclusivity of different genders, races, and expressions.
The last on this list is for the minimalist out there.
The Everyday Tarot distills the images of the Rider-Waite-Smith into it’s elemental form. The artwork is hold and simple.
If you are just learning the Tarot, it can be really helpful to see the images clearly and precisely.
I personally believe the images lack any character whatsoever and take away the feeling of the Tarot. I prefer the Modern Witch Tarot or others before this.
But if you find yourself triggered by the images of the RWS, then this can be a great alternative.
Popular Decks I don’t suggest for new Tarot Users
I think some decks are really difficult when you are first starting.
That doesn’t mean you can’t pick them up and use them; they just might be harder to connect with and take more time studying.
Here is the list of decks I think would be better for your second or third Tarot deck:
- The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck: The imagery is a little confusing and hard to grasp unless you have already memorized the cards.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas Tarot Deck: Like many other themed decks, this deck is great once you know why/what the images are referencing from the RWS.
- Deviant Moon Tarot: The images bring up a very specific interpretation and feel for the Tarot. This deck is best if you are doing Shadow Work.
Finding a Tarot deck you connect to is such a personal thing. The style of art, the inclusion of the characters, the religious undertones, and preferences all play a part in why a deck might be more accessible for you to work with.
When first getting started with Tarot, I suggest working with the Rider-Waite-Smith deck because you will see its artwork referenced everywhere else.
If you don’t feel called to that deck, then I suggest the Modern Witch Tarot or any of the decks by labyrinths. Those decks will give you a solid enough foundation through the art and associated guidebooks to get you started.
Also, remember the decks I am suggesting are just for the first few months or year that you are learning the Tarot. Once you have the basics of the images/symbols, you can move onto any other deck with a solid understanding.
Over the years, I have gotten quite the collection and notice certain decks are much better with certain questions or fit my mood best.
But again and again, I see how important it is to have a grasp of the original Rider-Waite-Smith imagery. It is infused in almost every modern deck, and it gives you a much deeper understanding of the cards.
If you are new on your journey with Tarot, check out these other articles: