When it comes to a ”beginner deck” there are a lot of tips and opinions out there. I actually believe there are basically no wrongs or rights here. A lot of the recommendations revolve around RWS clones or decks that closely resemble the RWS, and that’s fine, but what if you fall head over heels in love with the Mary-El Tarot? No other deck makes you gasp like it does, and you just MUST have it… Should you still go for the good ol’ RWS?
If you ask me – Maybe. Maybe not. Hehe.
If you aspire to become a professional tarot reader, if you think you will want to work with many decks in the future, and if you want to get to know tarot and its whole history and system more than ”just” reading with the cards – Then I’d say you really do need a more basic deck than the Mary-El Tarot (at least to study it . In that case you will want to read many tarot books, and a lot of them are based on the RWS.
But if you want to work strictly with yourself, develop your self-knowledge, analyze your soul and mind, heal yourself through tarot, get daily inspiration for your life – Then go ahead. Buy the Mary-El and start connecting with it and exploring the deck and yourself.
A lot of the ”best beginner decks!”-lists do come from personal taste, of course. And I can admit I sometimes cringe at the choices, only because my own taste in art differs so much! This applies to everything in life. If you’re born in the 80’s like me, you will remember the little girl fights we used to have about say, Backstreet Boys! ”Omg Kevin is so cute!”, ”Nu-huh! He’s ugly! Brian is the cute one!” etc… And it’s the same thing with tarot!
Two choices I cringe over are the Hanson-Roberts and the Morgan-Greer. I find them flat out butt-ugly! The colors of the Morgan-Greer hurt my eyes and brain. The weird proportions of the Hanson-Roberts make me laugh. Not to mention the multi-lingual borders – My biggest pet peeve of all when it comes to tarot decks! And this one isn’t even trimable… Ugh! I actually own the Hanson-Roberts, but I could NOT read with it, ever. (Does anyone want it? I’ll send it for free, just pay the postage, ok? Seriously, just let me know!)
So let me show you MY list of decks that I own or have owned that I consider good beginner decks. To me a good beginner deck is a deck that resembles the RWS, shows clear scenes (I have issues with portrait-style images for tarot…), and is appealing to eye (again, a matter of taste). A good beginner deck can also be a deck that might not follow the RWS tradition that closely, but has a really good guidebook! Not saying everyone even needs a guidebook, but it can help for a lot of people, and it helps you start somewhere and not get completely overwhelmed.
Please note that I have not included decks that are out of print, it seems unfair to do…
RWS (or its clones)
Well, DUH! Obviously this one must be on the list. I own the standard yellow-box RWS, and the Universal RWS, and I love them. There are more great clones, where the colors have been changed a little and such. If you get one of these you’re safe! There are literally hundreds of books out there for you to study. But I only recommend this if you actually like the artwork! If you hate it – Don’t bother. I personally have always found this deck beautiful, but I do know a lot of people think it’s horribly ugly.
Crystal Visions Tarot
Feminine, pretty, non-threatening, and stays quite close to the RWS. I really like that the suits all have their own color, so it’s clear when one of the suits is dominating in a bigger spread.
Now, I haven’t used this deck much at all, but from what I’ve seen it’s a good beginner deck simply because it shows clear scenes and again, stays close to the RWS. Many people like its modern look.
This was my first deck, so maybe I’m not so objective now hehe. It’s great for a beginner who also likes or works a lot with goddesses. It’s pretty, it’s RWS, and it has a great guidebook.
Might seem ”out there”, but really isn’t, when looking at each card you will see that it follows the RWS tradition. In some cards I find it depicts the meanings even clearer than what the RWS and many other decks do! The court cards are really good!
Mystical Cats Tarot OR Cat’s Eye Tarot
This is for the cat lovers out there! These decks are quite similar. They make a couple of little changes to the card names and such, but they’re quite subtle, otherwise they stay close to the RWS. Both have great guidebooks (Cat’s Eye is an LWB, but a good one!).
Robin Wood Tarot
Aah a classic! A classic I actually like hehe… Some cards do feel very dated, very 80’s, but not as much as other decks from that time… It’s pretty, easy to read with, and any book based on RWS will do.
At first glance it might seem very different from the RWS, but looking closer it’s not really. The colors are lovely and it has a very dreamy feeling. It has a bit of a fantasy vibe going on, so someone who likes fantasy could really enjoy this. I think there is a guidebook out there…? I don’t have it myself though.
Steampunk Tarot by Moore and Fell
A great guidebook comes with this deck! It draws you in and I really enjoyed it, and I rarely like guidebooks to be honest. The deck looks beautiful. I can’t really wrap my head around what ”steampunk” is, but oh well, I love the people in this deck, the court cards are fantastic!
Sun & Moon Tarot
This is a strange deck because it’s said to follow Thoth tradition… But I don’t see much of that? Except that the cards all have titles that match the Thoth. But I find this deck clear, easy to read with, and has a nice happy vibe to it. It has one of my all time favorite Moon cards! (see photo above)
I’m yet to use this, but based on what I’ve seen this is a great beginner deck for anyone drawn to the art style. It follows the RWS but still has its own personal flair.
Tarot of Vampyres by Ian Daniels
This is for the vampire lover, or someone who enjoys darker art. It’s very well done and beautiful, and the guidebook is fantastic so no beginner should be able to feel lost with this one.
Girly, simple, and modern. I personally don’t read so well with this, not sure why, but it should be an easy deck to use because the images and scenes are very clear and follow the RWS basics. This is a great deck for someone who wants to use tarot in a more fun way (yeah, I don’t mind that, tarot IS fun!) and for divination more towards the fortuneteller-style.