It’s no secret that I have a lot of opinions on tarot cards, and perhaps you find many of them frustrating since they’re all basically a variation of “do whatever works for you.” So, when people ask me for my essential tarot deck recommendation, naturally, it’s not a simple answer.

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A light wood background with various tarot cards splayed out to the left with the text "what makes an essential tarot deck?"

For what it’s worth, you shouldn’t take any overly easy answers about tarot. Like pretty much everything you could learn–art, sports, cooking, social skills–tarot and intuition aren’t about what works for other people.

It’s about what works for you.

So, some people feel connections to certain decks. But if they tell you their favorite deck is the best to work with, and then you struggle to use it, that’s going to be an issue.

Firstly, you’ll feel like a failure because you can’t use the deck that was recommended and so perfect according to the person you asked. Secondly, you’ll probably give up and assume you just can’t do tarot.

So, instead of telling you which deck is the essential tarot deck, I’m going to talk about how you can find the essential tarot deck for you that will help you learn tarot reading fast.

What Makes an Essential Tarot Deck?

Can we talk about the tarot elephant in the room first?

Most tarot resources you’re going to find out there use the Smith Rider Waite deck as the true north. That doesn’t mean those cards are the best tarot cards, or that those cards are even the source of truth for many modern tarot decks.

That also doesn’t mean the Smith Rider Waite deck is inherently bad.

As with everything, let’s get nuanced, baby!

The deck was created in the early twentieth century, so the imagery and interpretations can reflect the values of that era. That doesn’t mean your tarot practice has to include those values even if you’re using that deck.

I know plenty of people who think that deck is satanic and evil. I also know plenty of people who don’t like it because it includes a lot of Christian imagery.

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Many things are true at once, and that’s very true of tarot.

I will say that I like the cards for learning or teaching purposes because the images aren’t subtle. And if you want to read using your own intuition and interpretations of the cards, this is a great deck to start with because the images are over the top and give you plenty to interpret.

But that doesn’t mean the Smith Rider Waite is your essential tarot deck. I have a post about what is a good beginner tarot deck, but you can figure that out on your own.

How to Find YOUR Essential Tarot Cards

If you want to find the tarot deck that makes the most sense for you, there are some things to think about while you shop. Whether you go to a local store that lets you look at the cards before you purchase, or you look up card images online, keep these things in mind before you buy a deck:

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Are these the only things to consider when buying a tarot deck? NOT EVEN CLOSE.

But these are what I like to call the big three. If you pay attention to these things, you’re search for your essential tarot deck will get a lot easier. And the right deck, mixed with the tarot reading essentials means you’ll be well on your way to being a tarot reader.

But once you know what deck you need, how do you know where to get them?

I got you.

Where Should I Buy Tarot Cards?


Yes. I’m familiar with that bit of tarot lore. No, I don’t think it’s true.

Case in point: I was gifted my first tarot deck at the age of 10. Naturally, I didn’t learn anything and didn’t enjoy the deck at all. It didn’t make sense to me, and I didn’t have the depth of life experience necessary to understand the cards. But when I was in my thirties, I bought a deck and I’ve been hollering about tarot on the internet ever since.

(This isn’t to say that every 10-year-old will have the same experience. I’m sure some 10-year-olds were meant for tarot. But when I was that age, I was struggling with long division and trying to look really cool on the playground while wearing BK Knights sneakers.)

I recommend hitting up your local metaphysical store for your tarot deck and building a relationship with the people who work there. You’ll probably be back to buy more decks, and usually the people running the store know great resources and events in your area where you can learn more about tarot.

But you can also buy directly from deck creators online. So if there’s a deck you want that your local shop can’t order for you, don’t hesitate to go directly to the source.

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And I know the subheading for this section has a “should” in it, so let’s take a moment to remember that in our tarot practices, we should do whatever the fuck we need to do. So if your local shop is too expensive, you can always grab decks at major retailers like Target and Barnes and Noble. Mega online retailers have them too.

It’s all well and good to say you should buy from a specific source, but that can often be cost-exclusionary and classist. Also, show me a local metaphysical shop that adheres to ADA guidelines, and I’ll call you a liar.

So, go where you need to go to get your deck. You’re no less intuitive for accessing things in the only way you have to access them.

Do I Need to Buy a Tarot Card Book?

I don’t know. Do you?

I like tarot books because I learn from reading. But if you have a different learning style, you should find resources to accommodate that.

There are tons of podcasts and YouTube channels out there talking about tarot, and there are online courses too.

I vote you pick resources that help you. And remember, your deck will always come with a guidebook. (Unless it’s bootlegged.)

As with all things, do what works for you, and disregard anyone who says that there’s only one true way. They suck and shouldn’t be trusted.

But if you do want a tarot book, I have this post on the best tarot books for beginners and this post about books on tarot card meanings for any tarot reader.

How Did You Find Your Essential Tarot Deck?

What tarot deck can you not live without? How do you go about buying a tarot deck? What kinds of tarot resources do you like for learning?

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