Nova is one of the most powerful commanders in StarCraft II’s co-op mode, but she has an unusual playstyle that can take some adjustment. I already offered some tips when I wrote up my first impressions of Nova, but now I bring you a more detailed breakdown.
Whether you’re new to co-op in general or just new to Nova, the following guide will help you get your bearings and begin calling down the thunder on Amon’s forces.
Economy, upgrades, and army composition:
Naturally, you should begin by making SCVs. Try to avoid queuing up multiple at a time, but make sure production is continuous. As soon as you can spend 100 minerals without compromising SCV production, begin construction on your first Refinery. Build the second as soon as the first is finished.
Once you can spend 150 minerals without compromising SCV production, dispatch another SCV to begin building your Barracks.
I usually cap out at sixteen SCVs mining minerals at the main base. This is a bit lower than the game recommends, but it frees up more supply for your army, and the resources you lose are pretty negligible. If you haven’t unlocked Automated Refineries yet, make sure to also have exactly three SCVs at every Refinery.
I don’t count the SCV building the Barracks toward the cap of sixteen. He will be used to build the rest of your base. Start with an Engineering Bay, then a Factory, then a Starport, then an Armory. Remember to attach to Tech Labs to your production facilities as soon as possible, and I also recommend assigning them to control groups. I assign each production building to its own group, but you can also assign them all to one and tab through them as needed.
Nova never has to build Supply Depots, allowing you to focus on other matters.
Once the main base is constructed, you can dispatch the spare SCV to your expansion, which may already be established by this time. The exact timing of your expansion will vary based on the map, but generally you should start building it as soon as possible. I usually assign fourteen SCVs to mining minerals at the expansion.
You may quickly find yourself floating extra minerals when playing as Nova. In StarCraft II, we’re trained to spend our resources as quickly as possible, but as Nova, it can actually be beneficial to float large sums of resources at times, due to the high costs of her units and top bar abilities.
I recommend trying to get a squad of Marines out as quickly as possible. Nova’s Marines are so strong that they can generally hold off early attack waves all on their own. Try to get their Super Stim upgrade at the tech lab (assuming you’ve unlocked it) as quickly as possible.
I also recommend getting Nova’s Ghost Visor upgrade at the Ghost Academy early on. It allows you to never have to worry about cloaked units and helps to target Sabotage Drone.
Moving into the midgame, you can focus on building your army. Regardless of circumstance, I’ll always make Marines and at least some Marauders. They’re versatile and cost-effective units that are always beneficial.
You should also always make as many Ravens as possible. Their most important ability is their repair drone, which provides crucial healing to your expensive units, but their other abilities are also strong. Their turrets can tank a lot of damage when deployed in front of your army, and their missiles provide significant AoE damage.
Beyond that, Nova has more options than just about any other commander in co-op, so it really depends on the situation.
Ghosts’ Snipe ability is amazingly powerful, especially with the Triple-Tap upgrade, but it does only target biological units, so I usually only make Ghosts versus Zerg or an infantry-heavy Terran. EMP can be good against Protoss, but it’s very micro-intensive.
If you’re facing Terran or Protoss air, Goliaths should be a priority. If you’re playing on Temple of the Past or Miner Evacuation, Siege Tanks are a good investment. Remember to deploy their Spider Mines regularly.
I’ll use Liberators to supplement my force if facing enemy air compositions or playing on Void Launch, but I generally don’t recommend using them as the backbone of your army.
I generally don’t make Hellbats or Banshees as Nova. They’re not bad, but they don’t offer much that other things can’t do at least as well.
Always remember to get the Tech Lab upgrades for any units you’re using. They’re all worth it, with the possible exception of the Liberator upgrades and EMP when not facing Protoss.
Nova has two combat modes, with the second unlocked at level three.
I tend to focus on her Stealth Mode. It allows her to attack air, and her Snipe is useful for taking big chunks of health off dangerous targets like Hybrids.
However, the most powerful tool of her Stealth Mode is undoubtedly Sabotage Drone. In fact, Sabotage Drone is one of the best abilities in all of co-op. It’s completely undetectable and therefore completely unavoidable. Send a drone into an enemy base for a guaranteed burst of AoE damage that can instantly kill all but the toughest units and structures.
Sabotage Drone has a relatively short cooldown, and you should be using it as often as possible. Often I’ll separate Nova from my main army so she can begin softening up later targets even as my army is dealing with a current objective.
After level nine, Stealth Mode also allows Nova to nuke targets, dealing massive damage in a huge area. Like Sabotage Drone, I tend to use this before attacking, but it can also be useful in the middle of fights. Nukes do not cause friendly fire damage in co-op.
Assault Mode is more niche. Its main tool is a conal AoE shotgun blast that deals bonus damage versus light units. It’s devastating against things like Zerglings, Zealots, Marines, and Hydralisks, but fairly underwhelming otherwise.
Assault Mode also gives Nova a short cooldown teleport that shields her. This is important to keep her alive while she’s blasting away at the front lines, and can also be a useful mobility tool.
Assault Mode’s level nine unlock is a Holo Decoy. The Decoy is something that seems good on paper but whose usefulness is limited in practice. It has very high health and damage, but you can’t control it directly, so it tends to stay in the general vicinity of where it was first summoned, and you can’t be sure it will be attacking what you want it to. I usually throw it out in the middle of a big fight and hope for the best.
Top bar abilities:
Nova also has a number of powerful global abilities accessed from the top bar. Uniquely, they cost minerals, though their cooldowns tend to be very short.
The first ability is Defensive Drone. This summons an immobile drone that will apply shields to friendly units when they’re attacked and has a decently long duration. The drone can be killed but is fairly tough.
This a very strong ability that should be used early and often. Don’t hog it for your own troops, either. It’s a great way to support your ally if your armies are separated.
The other top bar ability Nova begins with allows you to instantly revive her in the field if she’s killed, with the cost determined by how much is left on her revival timer. You should almost always use this immediately, unless you’ve somehow gotten Nova killed during a period where there is little or no fighting.
At level two, she unlocks the Griffin Airstrike ability. This is an expensive ability at 1,000 minerals, so you probably won’t use it much in the early or midgame, but it can be a great tool in the lategame, dealing massive damage in a large column.
Note that there is a slight animation delay between casting the Airstrike and its impact, so it requires careful targeting. A good strategy is to send a Sabotage Drone into an enemy base then use its vision to target an Airstrike into the unexplored areas (Ghost Visor can help you know where to aim). The unengaged enemy will simply sit there as the Drone and Airstrike deal ruinous damage.
The Airstrike also happens to be the perfect size and shape to deal incredible damage to both trains and their protectors on Oblivion Express.
Finally, at level five, Nova gains Tactical Airlift, which allows her to pick up a large number of friendly units and instantly teleport them to any place you have vision, for the low price of 200 minerals. This is a fantastic ability whose potential cannot be overstated. It’s especially great for protecting locks on Lock and Load, but it has applications on every map.
In the first set, I prefer Nuke/Decoy cooldown reduction. Even at full mastery, the Airstrike will still cost 700 minerals, which is still a lot.
For the second, unit attack speed is definitely superior, though I still put some points in Nova attack speed just for funsies.
For the third, unit life regeneration should be your first priority, but once you’ve sunk five to ten points into it, you start to run into diminishing returns pretty fast. Spend the rest on Nova’s energy regeneration.