What I Like in a Tarot Deck

Since I’ve been bitten by the deck collecting bug, I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos recommending different decks. I find that I can usually tell pretty quickly whether I’ll be into a deck or not, and of course no matter how much someone recommends something or says how powerful it is, if it doesn’t suit your style, then it just may not work for you. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes get surprised by a deck, and find through working with it that I connect more quickly than I expected (looking at you, Raven’s Prophecy) but there are plenty that I just look at and immediately know they’re not for me. So I thought I’d share a bit about my preferences, and then if these resonate with you, you might be into the list I stuck at the bottom of the post.

  1. Borderless or unobtrusive borders. I tend to find that the art strikes me more if the deck is borderless. This isn’t always true, but common. If there are borders, I usually prefer dark to light.
  2. Strong font choice. I’m not necessarily opposed to extra words on a card, as I first thought I was. For example, I really like the astrological correspondences and keywords on the Next World Tarot. But I hate distracting fonts that don’t go well with the deck, and I don’t want a whole list of keywords, because that’s just not how I think of cards. I avoided keywords as I was learning and looked for resources with paragraphs or stories on the meanings instead.
  3. Bold, colorful art. The color part isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, as I also do like some really bold white-on-black decks, and I enjoy the look of the Wooden Tarot, which has a muted palette. But my usual preference is for fairly striking colors and for art that is bright and bold. I don’t like sketchier styles as much.
  4. Representational art. In addition to a preference for bold art, I tend to shy away from very abstract decks. I can enjoy abstraction or surrealism within the context of a figure or recognizable object, but I don’t like decks that are very, very abstract. I also tend to prefer decks that are based around people (I include animals in that definition).
  5. Clear system. So far I’ve just been doing Rider-Waite-Smith inspired decks, but whatever the system, I do want the art to in some way “match.” It doesn’t have to look anything like the RWS version, but it does need to evoke the emotion or the idea of the card. Now I am starting to branch out a little here, getting to know interesting different versions of cards and those that re-imagine and rename cards or add additional ones (such as the Numinous Tarot or Tarot of the Silicon Dawn), but I can be turned off by decks where some cards have a very different energy or it doesn’t feel like they’re following the system at all. My first deck, Starry Cauldron, falls into that category for some cards, and I find it very confusing.
  6. Representation! If there are people, please for the love of God don’t make them all white people. And even better, make them diverse in gender expression, ability, age, body type, etc. as well. I enjoy decks that rename cards to take the gender and other problematic concepts out, but also those that keep a traditional name and queer or subvert the meaning through the art. What I don’t enjoy are decks that ring of straight-up cultural appropriation. Anytime a deck is themed around a specific culture or religion, I find myself muttering “please let the creator belong to that group!” and I’m turned off as well by the decks that are supposed to be vaguely “Native” or “Asian” and don’t represent specific people or cultures. In addition, I’m totally in favor of there being more decks out there made by creators of color around voodoo / houdoo / voudon / orishas / Hinduism etc. but as a white person I’m not personally going to use a deck that comes from a closed tradition.
  7. Modern life. This isn’t required, necessarily, but I do really enjoy decks that pull from elements of modern life and have interesting ties between modern realities and the card meanings. I really don’t enjoy Medieval or Renaissance decks, particularly if they’re full o’ white people.
  8. Easy-ish to shuffle. If there are warnings about terrible cardstock, I shy away. I also tend to have trouble with very large cards and circular cards, though I’ll make exceptions for a fantastic deck (hi, Next World).

So those are my general criteria! Some decks I own that fall within, or mostly within, them include:

  • The Next World Tarot
  • The Numinous Tarot
  • The Sasuraibito Tarot
  • Crystal Unicorn Tarot
  • Mystic Mondays Tarot
  • Raven’s Prophecy Tarot
  • The Wild Unknown Tarot

Do you have similar preferences? If so, what decks would you recommend?? And if you have a copy of Slow Holler you’re looking to part with, I will create a firstborn child just to give it to you.

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