When I chose my first tarot deck I did so out of purely subjective preference for the artistic style of the deck. I really love art deco/nouveau, 1930's era children's book illustrations and pre-raphaelite styles. I was torn between Pamela Coleman Smith's and Frieda Harris' styles. Of the Rider-Waite-Smith choices the softened colors of the Universal Waite appealed to me and the large size of the Thoth deck counted against it as I have smallish hands and needed a deck I could actually shuffle. (I have since learned this deck comes in a smaller size.) In the end I eventually acquired both, but I started with the Universal Waite. Tarot was so new to me then that I didn't perceive any particular "personality" to the deck. To me it was just a deck of lovely pictures that I was trying to learn and decode. That deck became very worn very fast. It remains one of my favorite decks to read with and I tend to use the RWS when reading professionally because I am so familiar with it and it feels very straightforward to me. I don't want to have to work any harder than I already do.
Robin Wood tarot. It was so like the RWS that I had come to know, but different enough to challenge me and force me to look at certain cards a different way. I still think the Robin Wood deck's Devil card is one of the most unique I've seen and the 3 of Swords, 7 of Swords, and 8 of Swords are, to me, very compelling. I don't care for most of the court cards, though, and they have a very late 70's early 80's style of art that wasn't appealing to me. I still hadn't sensed "personality" in these decks but was focusing mainly on the appeal of the art. The Robin Wood reads similarly to the RWS, so it wasn't much of a difference. As I began collecting decks that appealed to me and started reading with them, I think the first one I noticed myself having a distinctly different response to the cards was the Fey deck. The scenes on the cards, seemingly childish and cartoon-like, actually held within them much depth and darkness, and yet the figures would often seem playful and not at all serious. The images themselves seemed to reach into places inside my mind that my other decks did not go and they inspired me to look at the meanings of certain cards in a unique way. This is what lends a deck its "voice" and "personality."
Housewives Tarot. It was so kitchy and fun, I picked it up on a lark, just because it reminded me of all the old TV shows I used to watch as a kid. But when I began reading with it, I was floored by the straightforward, "listen up, girlfriend!" readings it gave.
One thing I have learned about decks and their unique styles is that you never can tell how one will strike you. You may love the artistic style, but when reading, it lies flat on the table, mumbling its messages. I say, "Speak up! I can't hear you!" and it just keeps murmuring. This is not the fault of the deck at all. It's not really a fault even. It's just that the images, appealing as they may be, just aren't resonating with my subconscious storehouse of associations. I've given these decks away to others for whom that chatter incessantly.
It can be tempting to become a deck hoarder just to sample the variety of personalities out there, but what I found when my deck collection began to grow is that I just didn't work with new decks enough to hear them well. One has to really become familiar with a deck by reading with it a lot before you can really assess its tone and style. Which is why deck reviews have very little appeal to me. While some may find them useful, my experience with tarot is unlike watching a movie or eating at a restaurant. It's even more intensely subjective and one person's "dud" deck is another one's tried and true gut-spilling oracle. Just because a deck may or may not "read well" for one person is no indication at all whether I will click with it or not. I appreciate deck reviews mainly as exposure for new decks I haven't seen yet. Following the online link to the author and/or artist website so I can see more has led to a few purchases. After acquiring around twenty or so decks, I stopped collecting. Tarot decks are, to me, like confidantes. Just as I can't possibly truly know a hundred people intimately, I feel I wouldn't have time to really get to know more decks. I am not closed to the opportunity to make a new friend with a new deck, if I should find one that especially appeals to me, but I am now very selective about those choices.
Here's an example of how I "hear" the Housewives Tarot:
Question: I just applied for a position at my place of work. Is there anything I can do to increase my chances of getting the job?
That Queen of Cups is all, "I know, honey. You're so tired of the process and you want something to come through for you soon. It's really hard. Here, have a drink and relax. You've already submitted your application and there's nothing you can do now but wait and see if they contact you. You know you are more than qualified for that position. They would be so lucky to get you!" (Thanks, I needed that bit of encouragement)
Temperance: "Just wait a bit. Keep doing your present job to the best of your ability. Don't do anything rash. Keep stirring, just keep stirring. You know the secret to baking is the precise amounts of ingredients, so maintain a good balance between giving a damn but not letting it affect your life outside of work. Remember what happened the last time when you allowed yourself to get a little carried away with the attitude that it was a sure thing? Yeah, your cake fell and bubbled all over the oven. Just allow yourself a measured bit of hope with realistic thinking." (Oh. Ok. Good reminder)
Five of Wands: "It's a highly competitive environment both in and out of your workplace. You have to show how talented and skilled you are above the others vying for the job in order to make an impression. There are just too many applicants that all have the same skills. Find a way to stand out and shine! Now go get 'em, Girlfriend!" ( I'll be happy to do this if I score an interview)
See, to me, it's a very positive deck and yet realistic. It's not Pollyanna-ish, but it is lighthearted. I love this deck for advice readings. I don't usually use it in professional readings because people tend to look at it quizzically like, "That's a tarot deck? What am I paying for here? June Cleaver's predictions?" I like it, but that doesn't mean everyone will.
Same question, same cards, different deck: The Thoth
The Queen is enshrouded in mist and can barely be seen or heard. Her voice sounds muffled as if speaking under water. I'm hearing her speak more to my mind, impressions, not a voice with words. It sounds much like she's trying to calm me, soothe and comfort me, reminding me that I am fine just the way I am. But I won't get this job unless I really want it. I have to feel the desire, not just speak it.
Temperance shows I'm going to need a good dose of mojo working in my favor to get this job. It's a job that calls for a blending of many different qualities and skills, so I need to be aware that I'm going to need some heavenly odds in my favor, some magickal working.
Five of Wands -- Even with the gods in my favor, I'm still going to have a lot of competition, so without the gods, I'm screwed.
Thanks a lot, Thoth.
Others will likely see and hear these cards differently than I, and that's my point. The cards themselves don't really have a voice or personality but that which the reader ascribes or associates with them. The artist may intend one thing, but the viewer of the art perceives another. We can argue forever about why this or that deck is "awful" or "fabulous" but in the end we're only talking about ourselves.