There are times when the 78 cards in a tarot deck seem like a case of “information overload,” even when pulling only a small number for a particular spread. Although I realize it’s part of the broader question about how tarot works, I sometimes think “What am I missing here that’s hidden in the rest of the pack?” In contemplating how I might use my Table of Affinities and Correspondences for practical purposes, I hit on a way to “pre-condition” the deck by stripping it down to a narrower sub-set of cards according to which affinities are dominant in a random sort of the deck.
The way to do this is to deal out the entire deck into four piles of approximately 19 cards according to the layout in the attached table. It doesn’t matter whether you do this in an orderly sequence or randomly as long as the distribution is roughly even. (If distributing the deck uniformly, there will be two cards left over; set those aside face-down for now; to simplify things, you could even take them off the bottom of the deck before dealing). Go through the Fire sub-pack and extract all of the cards that match the range of affinities shown in the list. Do the same thing for the Air, Water and Earth sub-packs.
Reassemble the chosen cards into a reduced deck that is weighted toward the features that were favorably aligned with their elemental “footprint.” Shuffle and cut this pack in your usual manner, using any spread you prefer. The shrunken population of cards will have been deemed by circumstances (or, if you prefer, “Fate”) to offer a more sharply focused view of the situation. This is not particularly different from the First Operation of the Golden Dawn’s “Opening of the Key” method, except that it is more elementally inclusive, doesn’t require the elaborate counting-and-pairing steps and immediately branches out into a more situation-specific reading.
Regarding the two left-over cards, they can be used as clarifiers for any position(s) in the spread that you want more information about. Since they were left face-down, it doesn’t matter which one you pick for any given position. They can also be used as a two-card extension of the “outcome” position to show how the situation might progress further into the future; in that case you might want to “mix” them around before laying them out.
I gave this a test-drive today and came up with 25 cards that I used in a nine-card spread. I took two cards off the bottom after the shuffle but before the deal and used them to extend the inconclusive outcome card (Hanged Man) into the future. I was pleased with the results.