Tarot cards serve many purposes, and this leads to a variety of Tarot deck styles (circa 500).
Some decks exist primarily as artwork; art decks often contain only the 22 cards of the Major Arcana.
Esoteric decks are often used in conjunction with the study of the Hermetic Qabala; in these decks the Major Arcana are illustrated in accordance with Qabalistic principles while the numbered suit cards (2 through 10) typically bear only stylized renderings of the suit symbol. *In contrast, decks used for divination usually bear illustrated scenes on all cards. The more simply illustrated Marseilles style decks are used esoterically, for divination, and for game play.
The Tarot of Marseilles decks generally feature suit cards which look very much like modern playing cards. The numbered cards sport an arrangement of pips indicating the number and suit, while the court cards are often illustrated with two-dimensional drawings.
Tarot divination became increasingly popular in the New World from 1910, with the publication of the Rider-Waite tarot deck in December 1909, (designed and executed by two members of the Golden Dawn), which replaced the traditionally simple pip cards with images of symbolic scenes.
This deck also further obscured the Christian allegories of the Tarot de Marseilles and of Eliphas Levi‘s decks by changing some attributions (for instance changing “The Pope” to “The Hierophant” and “The Popess” to “The High Priestess”). The Rider-Waite-Smith deck still remains extremely popular in the English-speaking world.
Probably the most widely-used esoteric Tarot deck is Aleister Crowley‘s Thoth tarot deck(pronounced tote). In contrast to the Thoth deck’s colorful artistry, the illustrations on Paul Foster Case’s B.O.T.A. tarot deck are black line drawings on white cards; this is an unlaminated deck intended to be colored by its owner.
Other esoteric decks include the Golden Dawn tarot deck which is based on a deck by SL MacGregor Mathers, the Tree of Life tarot deck whose cards are stark symbolic catalogs, and the Cosmic tarot deck which is unusual for an esoteric deck because it is fully-illustrated.
Other decks vary in their conventionality. Cat-lovers have the Tarot of the Cat People, a fairly standard deck complete with cat in every picture. The Tarot of the witches and Aquarian tarot deck retain the conventional cards with varying designs. The witches deck became famous/notorious in the 1970s for its use in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die.
Other decks change the cards partly or completely. The Motherpeace Tarot deck is notable for its circular cards and feminist angle: the mainly male characters have been replaced by females. The Tarot of Baseball has suits of bats, mitts, balls and bases; “coaches” and “MVPs” instead of Queens and Kings; and major arcana cards like “The Catcher”, “The Rule Book” and “Batting a Thousand”.
A very spiritual Tarot deck is the Isis Tarot also known as Tarot van Isis, Tarot d’Isis, etc., by Erna Droesbeke, using archetypical symbols.
Computing professionals might find the Silicon Valley tarot deck most intelligible, which offers online readings. Major arcana cards include The Hacker, Flame War, The Layoff and The Garage; the suits are Networks, Cubicles, Disks and Hosts; the court cards CIO, Salesman, Marketeer and New Hire.