Build Guide by Pucker
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The masteries shown here are not yet updated for the current season, the guide author needs to set up the new masteries. As such, they will be different than the masteries you see in-game.
Nidalee is one of the most versatile champions in the game. She can fulfill the roles of healer, pusher, carry, ranged nuker, ganker, and so on. She is not especially good at any one thing, but she is at least decent at pretty much everything.
Her sheer versatility allows her to enjoy a spot at the top of the champion tier rankings. She is also incidentally one of the best mid solos, if not the best. She is capable of shutting down just about anyone at mid.
A special thing to note about her is that she is one of the few champions that can successfully lane against a Heimer and shut him down. She has several ways to kill his turrets, and can sustain his abuse with her heal.
Doran's Ring and a Health Potion is usually what I start with. This gives you the survivability(via hit points) and endurance to stay in the lane long term(mana regen and AP).
The first few levels should be getting one of each skill, starting with the heal. Some people like to start with Bushwhack first, but that's just a matter of preference. I've gotten out of some level 1 gank attempts with 50 hp left after using my heal, so I know it's personally saved me from dying a whole bunch of times.
The laning phase should be pretty simple for Nida, put down traps in bushes and harass with your spear and autoattack. Since you have a heal, you can afford yourself a little more leeway in terms of how risky you can be.
Try to keep your opponent from getting creep kills, or if possible, keep them out of exp range. Make your opponent pay every time they come forward to get a last hit. Nail them with a couple of attacks and maybe a Bushwhack or Javelin Toss if you can get an angle.
Lane dominance/control is very much a psychological game, and I think a lot of it is learned through experience, but there is no reason to not learn how to do it at any stage in your development.
Nidalee is one of the best mid solos, remember this, and use it to pressure your opponents. It is very demoralizing for an opponent to go through an exchange with you where you both lose half your health, but then a few seconds later, you are back to full health. Use that javelin to punish positioning errors for your opponents. Try to cast it as soon as their attack animation starts.
Once you hit level 6, this is where the game starts to change for you. Cougar form allows you to escape ridiculous situations and chase like no other. You can either leave the lane to gank, or use your cougar form's ridiculous farming ability to get yourself stacked quickly and push their tower.
Note about map control
One thing that I would like to mention is that no matter what level you are playing at, sight wards are crucial to map control. Map control is the concept that your team has control of the map, as in you have vision of where the enemy team is, and you are actively winning team fights and skirmishes. This is a very important thing to have in matches and sight wards go a long way to accomplishing this.
As a rule of thumb, every single time I go back to base, I use my left over money to buy as many wards as I can(up to a stack of 3). This means that I usually have 2-4 wards up on the map at any given time. This is crucial for preventing and setting up ganks and dragon/baron kills.
Between wards and Bushwhack, even if your teammates don't want to put down wards, you alone should be able to provide a very good chunk of map control. Buying this many wards will put a little dent in your economy, but the ganks it will prevent, and the strategic value of them far encompasses the cost of the wards.
Mid Game and Beyond
Nida has three distinct turning points in her game, level 6, level 11, and level 16. Each of her cougar form upgrades give you a pretty big boost to your damage and farming potential. You can immediately start ganking and engaging in fights at level 6-7, or stay in lane and try to get their tower and fast-track yourself to level 11.
Once you have your Guinsoo's, you should be able to put out a good chunk of damage and healing. You can easily keep your stacks maxed out for free by switching in and out of cougar form, or using your abilities in either form. When returning to lane, or traveling across the map, make sure you are in cougar form for the speed boost, and using your pounce every time it comes off cooldown.
In team fights and standoffs, use your Javelin and Bushwhack liberally to put pressure on them. Heal your teammates(and yourself) and use cougar to dive in and take potshots or finish someone off. The ability to switch between melee and ranged attacks gives you an interesting edge in that you can still contribute to situations that are too risky for melee characters. Sometimes when taking potshots at a tower with our creeps there, I will heal myself even at full health for the attack speed bonus to get extra shots on the tower.
Here is my reasoning for the rune choices:
- Magic Pen Reds - A large portion of your damage is magical and these give the biggest benefit to you.
- Dodge Yellows - These help improve your survivability by a good chunk.
- CDR Blues - These allow you to spam your abilities even more(including your heal, increasing your overall healing throughput).
- Flat Health Quints - These are hands down the most game-influencing runes you can have at the start of the game.
For the mastery choices, I've found that CDR, mana regen, move speed, and improved Flash/Ghost give you the tools you need to do what you do best.
Flash and Ghost allow you to make some ridiculous escapes and chases. With Ghost popped, you are a bat out of hell in cougar form. Flash allows you to move a very large distance in a short amount of time when combined with your Pounce.
One other thing to note is that Nida can actually use her Pounce to get over walls and cliffs. Learning where these locations are is just trial and error for the most part, but can save your life.
Nida can be a tough character to learn, just keep at it and you will eventually start influencing matches in a big way. Once you pick up a Zhonya's, your heals really start to shine and make a huge difference. Correct use of cougar form and when to switch, when not to switch, etc. is very hard, and it requires a judgment call based on the situation.
Another thing to note is that this is a rough guideline for Nidalee. None of the item or build choices are set in stone, and you should be changing it based on yours and the other team's composition. If you find yourself getting a lot of kills, pick up a Mejai's, and so on.
Adapting to the opposing team and the composition of your own team is at the heart of what Nidalee is all about. Use this to sway the tide of the match.