I was once perusing the forums on Aeclectic when I came across a thread that was asking which of the above versions of the RWS was the better. With almost no exception, every response was in favor of the Universal Waite, and a few of them were downright trashing the Radiant. Now, when I was reading these responses, I assumed “Universal” was referring to the Lo Scarabeo version of the RWS, which, in my opinion, is an awful rendition of these classic cards.* I was wrong, of course. They were referring to the much superior – yet similarly named – deck from US Games, but at the time, I was unaware of the existence of this version. I couldn’t understand why anyone would prefer the LS Universal RWS over the Radiant (also a US Games deck, by the way).
So I spoke up and defended the Radiant. Not long afterward, I realized my mistake, and felt a little foolish for jumping to conclusions and speaking out against a deck I’d never even seen. I didn’t really regret it, though, because I did (and still do) genuinely like the Radiant RWS.
But I can’t deny it: the Universal Waite is, overall, a nicer pack of cards.
After I figured out the difference between the Lo Scarabeo and US Games Universal decks, I decided to buy myself a copy of the latter, even though I already had one RWS in the form of the Radiant (I also have the mini rws, as well, but that’s neither here nor there). After all, the RWS is my favorite version of the Tarot, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to have an extra (normal-sized) copy in my library.
Now that I have both of them, I can compare and contrast and share my honest opinions here. They are both perfectly good RWS decks, but the Universal does ultimately beat the Radiant. That’s not to say the Radiant doesn’t have its merits, though, and I’ve made a list of some pros and cons for each below in case anyone reading this, like that poster on Aeclectic, is on the fence about which to buy.
~ More vibrant colors (kind of tough to tell with the Fool, in retrospect, but I don’t feel like taking pictures of different cards, so you’ll have to take my word for it)
~ Laminated cardstock is very sturdy, yet not too stiff
~ Not the original Smith artwork, but a (faithful enough) re-drawing
~ Some of the faces look kind of weird, almost like drawings of wax figures (not that Smith’s drawings are very realistic, but some of them do look a little more natural)
~ Laminated cardstock is high-gloss and doesn’t look quite as nice
~ Original Smith artwork (the only thing different about this one compared to the original RWS is the colors)
~ No glossy finish looks nicer, more organic
~ The backs of the cards are better (actually, they both have very cool starry-night designs, but of the two, the Universal is better done, I think, with the background being a darker shade and the stars having a metallic gold sheen, while the Radiant’s stars are just yellow)
~ Colors look a bit washed-out (although they are still nice, and the color is really a matter of personal preference, anyway)
~ Cardstock is less sturdy (although not terrible by any means), and no gloss means less protection
Here is my justification for having both in my own collection: the Universal, because it is nicer and has the original linework, is the pack I go to for studying and appreciating the art. I do read with it sometimes, but it never leaves my apartment. The Radiant, because it is sturdier, is my travel deck, and the one I can pass around among my friends without worry. They can be riffle-shuffled and will withstand at least some light beer-spillage (I can say so from experience), neither of which are things I would be comfortable doing with my Universal. In other words, the Radiant is my beater-pack, while I keep the Universal pretty and pristine for my collection.
Of course, if you’re still not sure which one you really want, you can always resort to the original Rider-Waite from US Games. There is really nothing wrong with that at all (although the backs of that one don’t have the stars which I find so appealing – it has the same boring pattern as the miniature version – see above photo).
In case you’re wondering, I never did go back to that forum to update my opinion on this matter. Since the Radiant was so overwhelmingly the least liked of the two, I figured I’d play Devil’s advocate and leave my positive review of it up there.
*Not to bash Lo Scarabeo as a brand. Many of their decks are beautiful (and I possess a few of them), but in my humble opinion, their “Universal” RWS is an eyesore.