Monday, 9 December 2013

A COMPLETE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO CARDFIGHT!! VANGUARD





I. Introduction

Hi there!  Thank you for viewing my article.  This is sort of a beginner’s guide thing intended to help aspiring players and new players get a lot of the basic knowledge they need to know about Cardfight!! Vanguard, but it might yield some helpful tips for veterans and competitive players as well, so please give it a read.  If you already play the game and don’t care about the fluff and introductory knowledge, feel free to skip down quite a bit.  I will try to keep the lingo to a minimum, as this guide IS intended to be for newer players, but it is unavoidable that I will assume you know the basic rules and zones of the game.  They should be fairly easy to grasp through watching the anime, watching others play games, and/or reading the rulebook.

II. What is Cardfight!! Vanguard?

First of all, what is Cardfight!! Vanguard?  It’s a fairly new card game by the Japanese company Bushiroad, with releases having started at March 2011.  It eventually gained a lot of popularity internationally and spurred Bushiroad to begin releasing the game in three different languages (English, Japanese, and Korean) and to officially support the game worldwide.  Although still not as popular as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Magic: The Gathering, or Pokemon, Cardfight!! Vanguard has caught on really well compared to other card games and is easily the most popular TCG outside of the aforementioned three, with many stores all around America hosting tournaments and products.  There is also an ongoing anime series based on the card game, currently with 2 seasons completed.  As of the time of this writing, there are currently 7 major sets (BT01-BT07), 2 Extra Booster sets (EB02 and EB03), and a variety of promo cards available for the English edition of the game.  Each normal booster box contains, for the most part, 30 booster packs and a total of 3 RRRs, 5 RRs, 22 Rs, and 120 Cs.  Every one in 4 boxes, an extremely rare SP card with alternate flavor text, foiling, and possibly artwork of a card with lesser rarity is put in the place of an RRR.  In each Extra Booster box, you usually get 15 Booster Packs with 1 RRR, 3 RR, 11 Rs, and 60 Cs and unlike in a normal booster box, SP cards in Extra Boosters take the place of an R.  Although the release schedule is a bit different between languages, Bushiroad is working on getting everyone else caught up with what the Japanese edition of the game has and so releases are going to be a bit more rapid for the English game for a while yet.
In Cardfight!! Vanguard, the premise of the card game is that you and your opponent are two weak astral bodies on Planet Cray, where all the units you see in the form of cards reside.  You are the Vanguards of opposing armies, and can enhance your powers through taking the forms of units (riding) and summoning rearguards to support you in the fight (call).  The objective in the game is to deal 6 damage to the opponent before they do the same to you, and as a result banish their spirit from Cray.  It’s also worth noting that every single card in the game is a unit with statistics that you can call and attack with, which is unusual for a trading card game.

III. Why play it?

So, why should you play this game?  Well, it has several things going for it, the largest of which has to be the artwork in the game.  Bushiroad hires big-name artists to design their cards and they make sure the artwork on the card covers the entire thing, as opposed to containing it in a rectangle.  You can see many distinctive art styles and be able to more easily appreciate them.
Another related reason is that the foiling of Cardfight!! Vanguard cards is far more varied and detailed, and even the normal rares are foiled out.  In every set, you can count on at least the Rs, RRRs, and SPs to have distinctive foiling patterns different from that of any other set and even from a different language edition of the same set.  It’s quite fun to collect them all and to compare them with each other.
Also, if you’ve played another trading card game in the past, you might have found the vast majority of cards or decktypes to be plain bad.  In Cardfight!! Vanguard, almost every card in playable thanks to its separation of cards into a multitude of clans.  And the nature of the game makes it so that, despite all clans not quite receiving the same quality of support, ANY clan or decktype can win if well-built and well-played, so the gap between the competitive “tiers” is far smaller than that of a normal cardgame and encourages you to play simply with what interests you most.
The cost of keeping up with the game is also quite small; generally, cards are relevant after their initial release for a long time, if not forever, so if you dedicate your decks to only one or two clans, you’ll often find that you’ll rarely have to spend much after your initial investment of building the decks in the first place.  If you want to get started and learn the game, but you’re not sure if you want to commit to it, try picking up a Trial Deck or two at a local shop or online for $12-15 and play with a friend.  Your average “complete” competitive deck could cost somewhere between $50 and $250 depending on the clan.

IV. Clan Overviews

With that said, I think this is a good time to start moving on to briefly describing the nations and clans in the game available in English and hopefully help people decide what they really want to play.  Do note, however, that as of right now nations are ENTIRELY irrelevant to gameplay and only a select few cards in a few clans care about race at all, so you can treat those as fluff.
Royal Paladin: A clan of knights with a mostly white-and-blue color motif that takes inspiration from Arthurian myth.  Focuses on selective searching and calling units from the deck to swarm the field.  They are also capable of achieving relatively high levels of power on a more consistent basis than many clans.   It is usually pretty heavy on Counterblasts (flipping damage as costs for skills) but yields good rewards for them.  Blaster Blade also gives the deck a method of retiring.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Knight of Godly Speed, Galahad; Majesty Lord Blaster; King of Knights, Alfred; Soul Saver Dragon; Fang of Light, Garmore.  Royal Paladins are of the United Sanctuary nation and have a Trial Deck.
Shadow Paladin: Also a clan of knights, the Shadow Paladins are composed mostly of defects from the Royal Paladins and has a purple-and-black color motif to match their portrayal as darker counterparts.  Rather than Arthurian mythology though, the Shadow Paladins more resemble figures from Irish folklore.  Shadow Paladins focus on both gaining card advantage (both selectively and randomly) and sacrificing unneeded allies.  Although they have a hard time achieving the consistent raw power of Royal Paladins, they can often boast superior defensive capabilities to make up for that.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Phantom Blaster Overlord/Phantom Blaster Dragon, Origin Mage Ildona, and The Dark Dictator.  Shadow Paladins are from the United Sanctuary and do not currently have a Trial Deck.
Gold Paladin: The last and newest of the Paladin clans, they are in a sense the replacement of Royal Paladins and Shadow Paladins, although they are unique in their own way.  Also takes from Arthurian mythology.  Most members of the clan have a gold color motif and it’s made up largely of former members of the Royal Paladins and Shadow Paladins (with one obvious former Kagero member as well).  They focus on gaining advantage through calls from the deck, with their methods tending towards being easier, cheaper, and random rather than expensive and reliable as Royal Paladins were.  Many of their rank also have abilities that come from being called from the deck.  Though not exceptionally powerful or finessed, their swarming and advantage-gaining capabilities are second to none.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Great Silver Wolf, Garmore; Incandescent Lion, Blond Ezel; Spectral Duke Dragon; White Hare in the Moon’s Shadow, Pellinore.  Gold Paladins are from the United Sanctuary and have a Trial Deck.
Oracle Think Tank: A large and powerful corporation of fortune-tellers and others skilled in magic and divination.  Some of their major cards are based on Japanese and Greek mythology, but there are a number of nuns, witches, black ops, and mechanical guardians in there as well.  They focus primarily on drawing a lot of cards so as to expand your options and defensive power, though they are not without utility either depending on what you wish to play.  Interestingly enough, they have cards within the clan that seem to directly conflict with one another’s playstyle, with either one being a viable option.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Goddess of the Full Moon, Tsukuyomi; Scarlet Witch, CoCo; CEO Amaterasu.  Oracle Think Tank is from the United Sanctuary and has a Trial Deck.
Angel Feather: A group of combat medics that take to the battlefield to heal the wounded and offer them protection.  As the name implies, most of them are female angels, and their motif is basically anything to do with healing and modern medicine.  They have the unique ability to utilize cards in the damage zone by swapping cards between the hand and damage for quality control, and they also have units that gain power from doing just that.  They can mount a very strong offense with a good field setup and their quality control helps them to adjust to any situation.  They are also considered one of the strongest decks defensively despite not gaining direct advantage.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Chief Nurse, Shamsiel, Circular Saw, Kiriel, and Cosmo Healer, Ergodiel.  Angel Feather is from the United Sanctuary and does not have a Trial Deck.
Kagero: They are the aerial assault unit of the Dragon Empire and are comprised mostly of fire-based dragons and dragon knights.  Kagero is the game’s greatest clan at disrupting the enemy, having ways to retire both frontrow and backrow rearguards and ruin field setups by hitting the weakest links.  Knowledge of the opponent’s strategies and hand composition helps to make full use of this ability.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Dragonic Overlord the End/Dragonic Overlord, Dragon Monk, Goku, Dragonic Lawkeeper, and Blazing Flare Dragon/Incarnation of Victory, Aleph.  Kagero is from the Dragon Empire and has a Trial Deck.
Narukami: They are also an aerial assault unit, put on the frontline after Kagero has lost its leader and become crippled.  Unlike their peers, the Narukami is composed largely of thunder dragons and other entities with thunder-related abilities.  They are also a bit more accepting of humanoid members.   Narukami, like their predecessor, also has retiring capabilities, but they sacrifice much of the ability to hit the backrow with additional ability to bully frontrow rearguards.  Popular cards to build a deck around include Dragonic Kaiser Vermillion, Thunder Break Dragon, Riot General, Gyras, and Vajra Emperor, Indra.  They are from the Dragon Empire and have a Trial Deck.
Tachikaze: They are the ground assault unit of the Dragon Empire and are comprised of mechanical and cyborg dinosaurs (or Dinodragons, as the game calls them).  They focus on retiring their own allies as costs, but they can use Counterblasts to mitigate the loss in advantage by returning retired units to the hand or otherwise get another card as compensation for the loss.  To be honest though, they’re a bit undersupported for the time being, but the upcoming Set 8 opens up many new possibilities for them.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Tyrant, Deathrex; Military Dragon, Raptor Colonel; Destruction Dragon, Dark Rex.  They are from the Dragon Empire and do not have a Trial Deck.
Murakumo: They are the black ops, or ninja squad, of the Dragon Empire.  Rather than having mostly dragons though, they accept members of all species resembling Japanese youkai or ninjas.  They have no advantage engine nor are they able to achieve breakthroughs in power, but the one thing they can do better than any other clan is create a massive quantity of attacks earlier on in the game when decks are unable to defend themselves well through low-cost shadow cloning and ride that momentum to an early victory before their shortcomings become apparent.  Their Grade 3 Vanguards (namely Dueling Dragon, ZANBAKU and Covert Demonic Dragon, Mandala Lord), unlike most clans, don’t actually reflect the theme of their clan too well, but they are unique and helpful all the same.  They are from the Dragon Empire and do not have a Trial Deck.
Dark Irregulars: The Dark Irregulars more refers to the collective demons and other dark, cursed beings of the lawless Dark Zone rather than a unified group, despite their unified theme in-game.  They tend towards the power-hungry and insane, and there are multiple factions fighting one another for dominance.  The Dark Irregulars focus on Soulcharging randomly and gaining power from that Soul.  They don’t care (with very few exceptions) about what is in the Soul, nor do they use Soul to pay costs, but the mere presence of a large quantity of Soul or the act of Soulcharging gives them power.  They essentially run on large raw statistics bolstered by Soulcharging, though the method of Soulcharging and emphasis that needs to be placed on it does vary depending on your strategy.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Demon World Marquis, Amon; Blade Wing, Reijy; Dark Lord of the Abyss; Stil Vampir; King of Diptera, Beelzebub; Edel Rose.  They are from the Dark Zone and do not have a Trial Deck.
Spike Brothers: They are a highly successful and incredibly brutal sports team in the Dark Zone.  Most of their ranks are buff or sleazy-looking demons, goblins, ogres, and androids, with some cheerleaders and management staff.  Their theme is basically to be able to mount ridiculously powerful pushes.  Virtually all of their high-power plays come at heavy costs, nor are they able to gain advantage outside of battle, but it’s incredibly difficult for any other clan to make an offensive push like they can later in the game.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Demonic Lord, Dudley Emperor; General Seifried.  They are from the Dark Zone and do not have a Trial Deck.
Pale Moon: They are a circus troupe that secretly functions as a group of assassins.  They are rather colorful and distinctive-looking, having members of many races, which is only natural given that they are a circus-themed clan.  They are also a clan that makes extensive use of the Soul, but unlike others, the Pale Moon cares a lot more about what is in the Soul rather than how large it is.  They can swap units to and from the Soul, sometimes in the Main Phase, and sometimes in the Battle Phase for flexible and acrobatics-like attacks.  With the Tamers, they can also have rather powerful attacks.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Crimson Beast Tamer; Nightmare Doll, Alice; Sword Magician, Sarah; Silver Thorn Dragon Tamer, Luquier; Magician of Quantum Mechanics/Purple Trapezist/Peek-a-boo.  They are from the Dark Zone and do not have a Trial Deck.
Granblue: They are essentially a group of undead pirates and sea monsters that roam the seas and make their base at Magallanica.  They are the only clan that can so flexibly manipulate the Drop Zone.  With this ability, they can optimize their field well, so it gives them more flexibility in calling units to be replaced later on and can effectively utilize almost any kind of hand provided they have the right units in the drop zone and the resources to use them.  They lack in any kind of advantage engine or raw power, however.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: King of Demonic Seas, Basskirk; Deadly Swordmaster; Ice Prison Necromancer, Cocytus.  They are from Magallanica and do not have a Trial Deck.
Bermuda Triangle: They are a group of cute mermaid idol singers who can nevertheless hold their own in a fight.  They are somewhat similar to Oracle Think Tank in that both clans want to draw a lot of cards, but while Oracle Think Tank is more direct about it, Bermuda Triangle methods often involve returning their own units to hand or connecting with an attack.  Amongst the clans they have the largest emphasis on return-to-hand effects and that also helps optimize their field, as it may not be a bad thing to call a weaker unit you may need to replace later so long as it will be useful now.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Velvet Voice, Raindear; Bermuda Princess, Lena; Top Idol, Pacifica; Top Idol, Riviere.  They are from Magallanica and do not have a Trial Deck.  However, all Bermuda Triangle cards that currently exist are contained within a single Extra Booster (Extra Booster 2: Banquet of Divas).
Aqua Force: They are a militaristic clan of sea-dwelling dragons and androids that style themselves like a sort of navy.  They once ruled all of Cray, but were sealed away by a mysterious force.  Yes, all of them, don’t ask how.  Aqua Force is not actually released in the English Edition of the game, but since they will be in a matter of months come Trial Deck 7 and Set 8, it’s worth mentioning.  They focus on getting four or more attacks each turn at the cost of making certain individual attacks weaker and launching devastatingly powerful Vanguard attacks after taking 4 damage.  Their effectiveness, more so than that of any clan, tends to depend on the defensive prowess of the opponent’s Vanguard.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Blue Storm Dragon, Maelstrom; Navalgazer Dragon; Hydro Hurricane Dragon.  They are from Magallanica and will have a Trial Deck.
Megacolony: They are a clan of large insects that are based on a mafia in terms of aesthetics.  Their theme is preventing opponents’ units from standing temporarily, forcing them to either compromise their offense the following turn or to retire those units for fresh new ones.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Martial Arts Mutant, Master Beetle; Evil Armor General, Giraffa; Death Warden, Antlion.  They are from Zoo and do not have a Trial Deck.
Great Nature: They are a clan of super-intelligent animals that attend the most advanced educational institute on Cray, the eponymous Great Nature University.  Members of Great Nature are themed after school supplies, students, and staff members while also resembling real-world animals.  Their theme is to temporarily power up their allies at the cost of retiring them at the end of the turn, and many of their units have ways to counteract the loss in advantage that comes from being retired.  Counterblasts can be used for both powering up units or canceling out the loss in card advantage that results.  Naturally, they can achieve high levels of power consistently in at least one column each turn once they get going.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: School Hunter, Leo-Pald; Armed Instructor, Bison; School Dominator, Apt; Guardian of Truth, Lox.  They are from Zoo and do not have a Trial Deck.
Neo-Nectar: They are a clan of plant-themed androids, dryads, forest dragons, and other mystical creatures of the forest.  They are the largest producer of food throughout all of Cray and pretty much have great authority over those living in lands that are not so self-sufficient.  Neo-Nectar is somewhat like the Paladin clans in that it focuses on superior calling units and hitting hard, but it adds twists to the methods that neither clan has.  Neo-Nectar also possesses a large quantity of on-hit skills, which can be combined to put offensive pressure on the opponent should you choose to do so.  Though a bit lacking in support now, they, like Tachikaze, will also be getting a large batch of new cards in Set 8.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Arboros Dragon, Sephirot; White Lily Musketeer, Cecilia; Maiden of Trailing Rose.  They are from Zoo and do not have a Trial Deck.
Nova Grappler: They are a theme of wrestling-themed units, most of them mechanical in nature.  Nova Grapplers focus mostly on standing and restanding their units outside of the Stand Phase through various skills for a multitude of attacks.  Most of these methods rely on chance or connecting with an attack, but can be devastating when things go well.  Popular cards to build a deck around include: Asura Kaiser; Stern Blaukluger; Beast Deity, Azure Dragon; Gold Rutile; Perfect Raizer.  They are from Star Gate and have a Trial Deck.
Dimension Police: They are a theme of superhero aliens and robots from a different dimension that organize to fight evil and protect the innocent.  Well, except for the world-destroying monsters they fight against which…somehow qualify to be in the same clan.  Go figure.  Above all clans, they (or at least the superhero part of the clan) truly emphasize the power of the Vanguard and many of the rearguards work to give the Vanguard extra power and effects.  Thus, it’s no surprise that the rearguards tend to be rather weak and basic outside of that.  But a solid hit from a buffed-up Dimension Police Grade 3 can be utterly devastating.  They, like Tachikaze and Neo-Nectar, are receiving a very significant boost in Set 8 too.  In addition to adding more Vanguard-oriented superhero cards, it’s adding many galactic horrors into the clan that have sort of their own theme of reducing the power of the opponents’ Vanguard.  Popular cards to build a deck around include Enigman Storm; Super Dimensional Robo, Daiyusha; Galactic Beast, Zeal.  They are from Star Gate and do not have a Trial Deck.

V. Building a Deck

So, now that you have (hopefully) chosen a clan or clan(s) you’re interested in, what should you do to get started on them?  If you’ve chosen a clan with a Trial Deck, you’re in luck, because they’re the most easily accessible.  For anything else, it’s recommended that you either buy a box or two of a set saturated with cards for the deck in question (since it also helps build a collection).  However, if you’re already dead-set on something and want to immerse yourself into the game quickly rather than start off slow or build a collection right off the bat, you could buy an entire deck as single cards and have your dream deck built at a much lower cost than if you were to buy Trial Decks or boxes.  http://cardfight.wikia.com/wiki/Cardfight!!_Vanguard_Wiki has complete listings of every card in every set, as well as their rarities, and also lets you know which cards exist in which clans, so it’s a very good resource for any player.
There are also some general guidelines one should follow when making most any deck, though there are exceptions to almost any rule.  First of all, the typical lineup is that of 17 Grade 0s (a starter and the 16 mandatory trigger units), 14-15 Grade 1s, 10-11 Grade 2s, and 7-8 Grade 3s.  This ratio is in place to help your chances of securing a ride up every turn until Grade 3 and also because cards of lower grades can be used earlier.  However, if there is a ride consistency-boosting mechanic in place within your deck (such as that of a ride chain, a superior ride, or a card like Solitary Knight, Gancelot) you may be able to safely break the convention if you feel it will strengthen your deck as a whole.  Without any of those though, it’s usually best to stay relatively close to the above ratio.  Notably, almost any deck with a Grade 3 that gains skills by Drive Checking another Grade 3 (such as Dragon Monk, Goku or Velvet Voice, Raindear) is encouraged to run 9-10 Grade 3s, taking away slightly from Grade 1 and Grade 2 numbers.
It is usually best to start planning a deck from the top; that is, starting at deciding your Grade 3 lineup.  It is usually a Grade 3 unit that you can build more of your deck to support, or to be supported by, although having the deck interact well as a whole is definitely important.  It’s also usually the Grade 3 choices that are more unique to the deck you are building.  From there, you can work your way down to Grade 2, Grade 1, and finally to Grade 0, as lower grades tend to have more unchanging “staple” cards that you will virtually always wish to run as well as cards with skills and statistics that are shared between clans.
Although Vanguard is a game that has few true must-run cards, as well as few outright unplayable cards, almost everybody that can afford them chooses to run 3 or 4 Perfect Guards for their clan.  These are usually amongst the most high-valued, if not the most high-valued, card of their respective clans.  They always come in RR rarity, every clan you can possibly make a pure deck with has one, and their text is written as “[AUTO]:[Choose a <<Clan>> from your hand, and discard it] When this unit is placed on (GC), you may pay the cost. If you do, choose one of your «Clan» that is being attacked, and that unit cannot be hit until end of that battle”.  They also have a shield value of 0 written on the side of the card to signify their special defensive role.  Although it may be a bit awkward to explain a specific type of card, I often see new players vastly underestimate what these Perfect Guards can do and thinking of them as bad cards for forcing you to use 2 cards as shield and being a weak booster if called.  Therefore, I think this is worth explaining.  In gameplay, it is not at all uncommon for the opponent to be able to create attacks that will force at least 2 cards from your hand if you do not wish to take damage.  In fact, almost every attack by the Vanguard does this.  A Perfect Guard allows you to discard itself along with whatever card is least useful to you at the time, thus possibly saving you a more useful card to call or guard with later and serving as an efficient form of quality control.  It allows you to guard opponent Vanguard attacks safely without taking a chance as to how many triggers they Drive Check and can be called as a decent booster unit in a pinch.  There are a fair amount of Vanguards in the game that can launch monstrously powerful attacks that can take more than 3 or even 4 cards to guard properly through normal means, in which case a Perfect Guard is an absolute lifesaver.
After you have decided on your core strategy or card, every time you wish to add something in, you should ask yourself “How will this card help me win”?  Because disruption is so minimal in Vanguard, and the cards so flexible in use, it is viable and often encouraged to plan your deck’s strategy with a single goal or method in mind.  There is both utility and power to consider in choosing cards.  First of all, realize that almost all Grade 3s in the game are, defensively, either at 10,000 Power or 11,000 Power at base and do not rise during your turn except in multiples of 5,000 via Damage Checked trigger units.  However, a few very popular crossrides can be counted on to sit at 13,000 Power, so this should be planned for as well.  Although Grade 1 and Grade 2 units are not quite so strong, do not worry too much about reaching good numbers against them beyond simply being able to hit them.  Also realize that all normal guards are either 5,000 shield or 10,000 shield.  For attacks with power that is not an interval of 5,000 from the defending unit’s power, the excess does not matter whatsoever.  An attack of 11,000 power or 15,000 power is the same thing against a defending unit with 11,000 power.   You can also expect rearguard frontrow units to be anywhere between 8,000 and 11,000; it is not unreasonable to say a lot of units with 9,000 Power and under will be called to the front.  You want to build a deck in such a manner that it should consistently be able to hit for 16,000 or more power in all three columns before triggers once you reach the later stages of the game.  The more combinations you can achieve this with, the better your field scalability is.  Mass return-to-hand skills, selective superior calling skills, drawing skills, and unit-swapping skills also contribute to field scalability, by the way, since field scalability is basically just a measure of how consistently you can achieve a field with a good distribution of power.  The power dynamics between Grade 1 and Grade 2 units, with almost all Grade 1s having 6K-8K power and almost all Grade 2s have 8K-10K power, also appears to be based around a median of 16,000 Power.
Naturally, it also helps to have a fair number of units that you can expect to be able to hit an opponent’s unit on their own as well, and you want combinations that can help you hit for 18,000 or higher as well in case you run into crossrides.  However, useful skills for Grade 2 and lower units often come proportionally to a loss in base power, if the skill isn’t one that gives power in the first place.  How to balance a deck’s raw statistics and utility is a very individual case and something that you will have to get a feel for yourself, since every deck has different aims and some are even dedicated towards making breakthroughs in field scalability and/or reaching higher levels of power (20,000 and up) in multiple columns.

VI. Tips for Playtime

So now that you have some form of deck and know the basic rules, how do you play smart and make the most of your deck?  What should you be thinking about?  At the start of the game, both players select and set a Grade 0 Vanguard from their deck and draw 5 cards, with the option to return any number of those cards into the deck and draw the same amount again after shuffling.  You want to try and get at least one card of each Grade, 1-3, in your opening hand.  If you are forced to skip a ride before you get to Grade 3 and your opponent does not, the loss in card advantage from not having Twin Drive!! and the (likely) lower offensive and defensive power can be absolutely crippling.  As a general rule, you should return all Grade 0s in your hand to the deck and, if you are missing a Grade, cards with the same Grade as another card you are holding.  If you have your ride up to Grade 3 guaranteed, it’s usually best to only return trigger units or no units at all, unless you are crowded with a specific unit you do not want so much of (often Grade 3s or Perfect Guards).  If, despite your best efforts, you still miss rides, do not fear and play the best you can.  It’s not uncommon for people to win even with missed rides, although it is an uphill battle.
When riding up, if you happen to have options on what to ride, it can be a difficult choice to decide which to ride.  Riding the units with greater base power can rescue you from an attack or two the following turn, but you’re also sacrificing those units when you ride over them.  A classic dilemma is the choice between riding a skill-less 8,000 Power Grade 1 and a 6,000 Power Perfect Guard.  Riding the 8,000 ensures that you are a lot less likely to take more than a single point of damage the following turn, but what if you are sorely lacking in offensive power?  Though riding the Perfect Guard may leave you more vulnerable, Perfect Guards are not that useful earlier in the game anyways and ensures that you have another good unit you can field, which can end up going a long way.
Calling units can be a tricky thing as well, though it is far easier for Grade 2 units.  Typically, any non-Grade 2 unit you call is forever unavailable as a shield or discard cost and cannot be replaced unless the opponent voluntarily attacks it, unless there is a skill to move it out of the way, or unless you replace it later and suffer a direct minus to card advantage.  You usually don’t want to call any non-Grade 2 units you are not willing to keep throughout the game unless you have cards that can retire those units as costs, bring them back to the hand, or otherwise replace those units.  And even then, it’s best not to go overboard.  As a general rule, units that you clearly know you will not be able to make a decent column (one that forces at least 10K shield from the opponent’s Vanguard before triggers or other conditional boosts) with should not be called.  Grade 0 units with 10,000 shield should also generally avoid being called, since you’re sacrificing twice the shield value of that of a normal Grade 1 or a Draw Trigger.  A Grade 2 that has as much offensive value as another Grade 3 you have also should near-always take precedence in being called, simply because of the intercept ability.  Lastly, be aware that any units you call and attack with in the frontrow are vulnerable to being targeted by opponent attacks.  If you’re short on call-worthy units or if you wish to achieve a certain amount of damage more quickly, it may be worth playing more conservatively.
The final game mechanic I’m going to go over will be guarding.  This is arguably the most difficult to master of the basic mechanics that all decks in the game use, as well as the hardest to look at objectively and judge whether the action was optimal or not.  Here are some basic unstated rules about guarding you’ve probably picked up on already.  All Grade 0s have 10,000 Shield, except Draw Triggers which have 5,000.  All Grade 1s (except Perfect Guards) and Grade 2s have 5,000 Shield, though certain Grade 2s with 8,000 Power gain an extra 5,000 Shield when used as an intercept and certain Grade 1s with 6,000 Power have a written cost or condition to turn them into 10,000 Shields.  Grade 3s do not have a Shield value and cannot be used to guard.
I often see players refusing to guard most, if not all, attacks earlier on in the game, perhaps because they play a Grade 3 with a Limit Break skill or because they want to enable more Counterblasts.  I will say right now that this is a mistake and should not be a tactic to try unless you truly have no good cards to guard with, especially since most Limit Breaks are intended to pressure a weakened opponent anyways.  In an average game with average decks, it is borderline impossible for either player to mount attacks with a full field, each forcing 10K Shield on their own, on their opponent.  For that matter, the stream of trigger units or other cards you would be willing to guard with come more slowly as well.  But in comparison, attacks earlier in the game (which are often weak and/or innumerous) are far easier to guard than later on in the game, even considering the larger supply of cards you have to guard with.  One 5K shield or one 10K shield can eliminate your chances of taking a full point of damage.  Fast-forward to a post-Grade 3 environment and suddenly full fields and seeing a trigger on most Drive Checks become far more common.  Your opponent can be coming at you with the standard, say, 16K-all-around columns.  If at this point you’re at 4 damage, you’re probably heavily inclined to guard the Vanguard because a Critical Trigger could end you right there, and that’ll take at least 2 cards to do so each turn.  Let’s say that the Vanguard did get a Critical Trigger and gave the power to a rearguard, bumping it up to 21K Power.  Another 2 cards minimum are needed to guard against that.   To put this in perspective…you’re using 4 cards to guard 2 attacks now whereas you could have used 2 cards to guard 2 attacks earlier on.  This can get even worse if the opponent can enable a 21K Rearguard and/or Vanguard column before triggers.  Overall, you’re just spending a lot more on guarding later in the game and have less opportunities to get helpful damage checked triggers, whereas they might have been useless for their power when the opponent only did one or two attacks a turn.  Sounds good, right?
There is definitely a balancing aspect that puts a silver lining on the concept of early guarding and makes decisions not so clear-cut though.  Because you have less cards earlier on in the game, you may simply not have cards that you can guard with that you would not want to call.  Or you may only have Perfect Guards, which, draining two cards, is plain inefficient in that stage.  Or you may exhaust your guarding options and be forced to take a full 2-4 damage in a single turn later on in the game when you don’t want to, which can be worse than simply having took the damage at a more steady rate earlier in the game.  As mentioned earlier, taking early damage also allows the use of earlier Counterblasts and Limit Break.  There are also Heal Triggers to consider; if you have more damage, opponents cannot heal while you can, but if you decided to be guard-happy, that situation may be reversed.  All I can say is to pace yourself.  Good luck with the cardfighting!