With so many wonderful tarot decks available these days, it would be difficult to have just one. I try to imagine how it feels to be a complete novice today and be confronted with so many decks; it would be overwhelming.
I do know some people who only have one tarot deck. That is all they want, and they are fine with that. If you are one of those people, this article is not for you...however, if you do read it, you may find yourself inspired to buy another deck or two. You've been warned!
To start a collection, and really to start a solid study of tarot, I would make sure I had one each of the various editions of the following:
These are the three main traditions that are used for reading today.
To have a very complete collection, you would probably want a Visconti deck as well, since it is one of the earliest tarot decks we have, and a Minchiate Tarot (which has more cards than a tarot deck, but is a close and very interesting cousin). Also, throw in a Sola Busca deck, as that is a 15th century deck with illustrated minor cards...compare them to Pamela Coleman Smith's and you'll see some surprising similarities.
There are decks that play off either the RWS tradition or the Thoth by following their structure but adding another layer, usually by incorporating a theme. What are some of your interests outside of tarot? Fairies, Celtic studies, the environment, Paganism, a historical period, tattoos, science, Jane Austen, vampires, goth, magic, Arthurian legends, fairy tales, baseball? Yes, there are tarot decks that explore all these themes. Add a few decks that combine your personal interest with tarot.
This is a great way to learn the cards, because these decks take a subject you already know and apply it to the cards.
Something Completely New
Once you understand the structure of the tarot deck, it becomes a framework that will allow you to learn new subjects very easily. If you know tarot very well but do not know, say, science, then The Quantum Tarot can be an easy and fun way to learn.
If you want to learn more about Welsh mythology, then the Llewellyn Tarot would be a great choice. Because the myths are matched up with cards that you already know the basic meanings for, it gives you an instant connection.
Different Decks for Different Purposes
People use tarot for things other than readings, and consequently find that one deck may not work for every purpose. That is certainly the case with me. Here are some potentially different uses that might require separate decks.
Different Types of Readings
Personally, I do not use different decks for different types of readings, but many of my colleagues do, so for completeness, I'm including that idea here:
It seems that we work so hard at getting comfortable with the cards. But then, once we are, we run the danger of becoming stuck in a rut or stagnant. The most important thing to remember about tarot is that it is always evolving. The cards change, the way we use them changes. If tarot ever settled into an unchanging thing, it would lose the power to transform us.
As a tarot reader, you'll want to keep pushing yourself. You don't have to agree with every new deck or technique or idea...but approach them all with an open mind. By honestly exploring them and weighing their pros and cons, you will only strengthen your own beliefs. There is nothing bad about that.
To feed your own growth, every once in a while spend time with a deck that is outside of your comfort zone.
One that is sure to push some kind of button on every reader, no matter how forward-thinking, is the Tarot of the Silicon Dawn. Emily Carding's Transparent Tarot is another that is really unusual with the potential to shake up your world.
Many tarot purists do not care for oracle decks. Oracle decks are any sort of divination deck that does not follow the structure of a tarot deck. Oracle decks may have some sort of internal structure or none at all. They can be whatever they want! And this really bugs some people.
However, oracle decks can play a role in the life of a tarot lover. Get an oracle with a similar theme or art as your usual tarot deck and add a position in your spread for a "secret message from the Universe." Pull the card for that position from the oracle deck.
Find an oracle that you like and use it to end a session with a client, having them pull a card as a final message.
Use an oracle deck for an inspirational message of the day.
Lenormand decks are really coming into vogue now. Some readers are frustrated because their clients want mundane, clear readings about their everyday lives. Tarot readers sometimes find that tarot is not well suited for such readings, or at least they are having trouble using them in that way. Lenormand cards, however, are made for those sorts of readings.
I am currently studying Lenormand cards. I hope to create a process whereby I can begin with the Lenormand deck and answer mundane questions in a mundane way. Then we can move on to the tarot cards and add depth, understanding, and power to the reading, and consequently to the client's life.
Maybe you should try that, too, and in a few months we can compare notes!