I love playing Nova and have probably have more than 700 games under my belt using her. This guide explains some of the tactics I picked up along the way. I won’t go in depth into talents. This is my current build at the moment.
Your job as Nova is to do as much damage as possible within the shortest amount of time while minimizing the enemy’s ability to attack you. Without an escape ability, playing Nova whittles down to positioning, patience, and execution.
When done correctly, it should look something like this (Credit again to Rean for the video). For those that don’t know, this is what’s generally called the “Nova Combo” which in the current patch stands at ‘3rqw12q’ pressed in succession. Breaking it down: you start with overdrive to maximize burst (3), use precision strike to start your attack so it hits right as you finish your other attacks giving opposing healers as little time to recover the damage you do (r), then blow all of your normal abilities and poison as quickly and accurately as possible (qw1), rewind (2), and snipe again (q). Even with rewind, there is usually no time to add a second pinning shot.
Needless to say, a successful burst kill like this adds tremendous value to any team. Not only can it singlehandedly turn the odds to your team’s favor, it also can counter one of the strongest factors in the game right now – healing. However, Nova can just as easily be deadweight if she fails to burst down her target given her pathetic auto-attack damage as well as her lack of utility outside of pure damage. Thus, mastering Nova is all about mastering how to execute this combo or variations therein.
It’s not an easy task by any means. Organized players are more likely to realize you’re ganking them and dodge the snipes and/or precision strikes. Healers can easily patch up any damage you do if you fail to get the kill or set up your teammates to get the kill immediately after. And as soon as you reveal yourself, you’re unfortunately target #1 for the enemy team.
Given that the bulk of the damage in the combo is coming from skillshots – Precision Strike and Snipe – maximizing accuracy is of the utmost importance. My mindset has always been to strike when the enemy positioning is most predictable. Below are three scenarios of this ranked by how favorable they are.
- When the target can’t move. This typically comes from stuns and roots from your teammates. Your target can’t dodge if they can’t move. Because of this, my favorite ganking partner is Arthas and Kerrigan. Both have long stuns and roots as basic abilities and most good players can hit them. The golem is also your best friend because it has long stuns and roots as well as attracting most of the enemy team’s attention. If it hits a squishy with his stun/root, come in, combo, and leave. Most of the time you can get away depending on the threats present.
- When you know where the target will be. These positions are usually caused by opponents chasing baits (even sometimes yourself!), forced displacements (Stitches Gorge/Gazlowe’s Grav-o-bomb/Zeratul’s Void Prison), marked movement points like Falstad’s fly and Illidan’s hunt, and retreats (running for their life). Because you know where the enemy is going to be, you can aim your combo at that location. You may need to stagger your combo in order to make sure all of them hit, but since you know where the target is going, it shouldn’t be too hard to hit them all. However, because the opponents can still move, they are more likely to dodge the combo.
- When the target is busy and unaware. Make sure the target is not moving by its own accord. This usually occurs when it is auto-attacking something such as mercs, your teammates, or even you. Any hero without an escape is guaranteed to be hit by the precision strike when he/she is not moving at the start and it’s cast directly above them, allowing you to complete the combo without any help. However, because the enemies have full control of their hero, you will have to make a choice here. Either go extremely fast on the ult and the snipe to catch them by surprise or go pinning shot first after the ult and then see where they are running to before the snipe. In my experience, both have roughly equal accuracy, but the latter is theoretically better since all spells hit even if the opponent move immediately.
The key to maximizing accuracy is to have the patience to wait for one of these scenarios to arise. This cannot be emphasized enough. Most new Novas jump the gun and miss a great opportunity later because they are afraid to be seen as “doing nothing” while a team fight rages on. Remember that the full combo is only available once every 60 seconds so if you miss, your contribution will be greatly reduced for a while. Make it count.
When the situation is uncertain or when you’re forced to engage without the benefit of the scenarios described above, then the combo becomes much harder and less effective. Given the target is constantly moving, you will need to stagger different parts of the combo in order to make sure all of them hit. When the opponent is knowingly avoiding you,I advise to begin the combo with pinning show (w) in order to slow them down before throwing the ult. Again, this is highly ill-advised given the significantly lower accuracy.
Other times, you can create your own high accuracy scenario, particularly in the early game when you’re ganking lanes. Many new Novas start their gank with snipe, but in my experience, the better thing to do is start with pinning show (and envenom if you have it) and then autoattack until the target is running for its life or turns around to attack you. Since it is now traveling in a predictable path or stopped moving altogether, the snipe will be much easier to hit. Try to save Snipe until the last possible second to avoid dodges from the target.
Finally, you positioning can greatly increase accuracy. Always try to be directly facing where the enemy is moving or more likely to move. This way, the snipe is easier to aim as the target’s movement is less likely to be directly perpendicular to the place you’re aiming which would be the case if you’re ganking from the side.
The other side of a successful kill is to make sure you don’t die in the process. There are 4 general steps to saving safe:
- Staying Cloaked: Cloak is more or less Nova’s only defense ability. Not only does it perform the obvious task of making her harder to see, it also prevents enemies from hitting Nova with targetable spells. As such, the only time you shouldn’t be cloaked is when you’re executing the combo or any variation thereof. Limit your auto-attack as much as possible in nearly all circumstances. Even when you’re forced to lane, if any member of the enemy team is MIA, stay cloaked and soak experience without attacking.
- Identifying threats: Nova’s second best defense is distance. As a range assassin, she has a head start when it comes to fleeing the scene. Thus, her biggest threats are characters that can close the gap. Tyrael (Judgement), Illidan (Hunt), Kerrigan (Leap), and Sonya (Leap/Chain) are the probably the top 4 because their abilities both chase and stun. Thus, when engaging, either make sure these guys have already used their abilities, have teammates that can support you if they haven’t, or be willing to sacrifice your life after conducting the combo. Always expect them to turn their attention to you as soon as you de-cloak. Never attack a target if you yourself have less than 50% chance of escaping alive. The only exception is when the target is already low (can be killed with the full combo without doubt) and your team is multiple levels behind. Generally, play it safe.
- Positioning: Positioning with Nova is always a contradiction – the safest place to be is behind the tanks at all times but the best place to be is behind the opponent’s tanks in order to reach the opponent’s squishy targets. Against good teams, I’ve found it’s hard to come in unnoticed so I generally prefer the safer option. Between revealing spells like Tassadar’s Oracle and Tyrande’s Shadowstalk as well as general awareness from the enemy team, it’s almost impossible to get to the back line. Instead the best thing to do is to wait for the battle to begin and either rush for the back line or just combo the lowest target in the front line. Even if you can’t get the kill with the full combo, you can put them low enough for your teammates to finish the job.
- Holo-decoy: I wish Nova had a real escape, but since she doesn’t, she has to make the most out of holo-decoy. The 2 most important skill-shots to block with the ability are Stitches’ hook and enemy Nova snipes. Both require experience to get the timing down right. The rule of thumb is to holo immediately vs. Nova and holo late vs. Stitches. Stitches will typically pull you right as you exit his melee range however a good Stitches will anticipate the holo-decoy so then it becomes a mind game. Enemy Triple Taps are another spell blocked by the holo-decoy. When being targeted, simply calm down and place it in the line of fire while running in a straight line away from it.
Targets and Approach
How you approach your attack will depend on the target in question. For targets with an escape such as Valla or Falstad, you teams has to bait the escape first before you can combo. Otherwise, you have to stagger your attacks and lose the burst potential (3qw – wait for escape move – 2qr). As such, your bread and butter are low hp targets with no escape. Raynor, Nova, and Zagara should be top priority followed by Malfurion and Tyrande. For the latter two, make sure they take some damage first because they won’t die to the full combo unless you are 2 levels ahead. Nazeebo and Tychus are tempting targets, but they are deceptively tanky due to their abilities (Death Ritual and Odin respectively). Avoid soloing them if possible. Other times, your team won’t need you to focus a target, but rather contribute to a combination of spells known as a “Wombo Combo”. In this case, always save your Precision Strike and always get Explosive shot. Both do considerable damage to clumped targets which should be more frequent in a wombo combo scenario. Don’t waste these valuable tools by soloing single targets.
In my opinion, Nova is the most fun hero in the game and is the primary reason I continue to play her whenever I can. However, the unfortunate reality is that no character has such a high skill requirement to contribute so little in the end, particularly for high level games. She not only requires precise skill shots, but also forces the user to have a clear understanding of positioning and reactions. Thus, reiterating what I said earlier, patience is the number one priority when playing Nova. Make it easier on yourself by waiting for the perfect moment before striking. When done correctly, the combo can be the best feeling in the game. Happy Hunting!