If you ask 75% of the top Rogues worldwide what the premier PvP spec is, they'll tell you Subtlety. If you ask an even greater margin of raiders what Rogue spec pumps out the most DPS, you'll get a solid shout of "Combat, duh!" And if you should ever feel the urge to pick up a pair of daggers, every brother of the shadows will direct you towards Assassination. These three trees have been neatly defined by Blizzard, and it's fairly obvious what each is designed for.
What separates Rogues from every other class is our nearly unilateral use of 41 point talents. A dagger Rogue without Mutilate is gimped while a Sub PvP Rogue without Shadowstep is the laughing stock of the arena. And don't bother stepping into Sunwell without Surprise Attacks, unless getting trashed on the damage meters is your idea of fun. We've gotten so used to the comfort in knowing that dumping 41 points into any of our trees will yield a viable build. Now that 51 pointers are on the way in 3.0.2 and Wrath to follow, I've been asked by many Rogues "Will the bottom of our trees continue to be the anchors of our builds?" Find out after the cut.
With talents like Guardian Spirit and Deep Freeze being no-brainers for classes that invested in the tree, many Rogues are conflicted on our tier 11 talents. Instead of acting as an anchor for the entire build, they seem more positioned to add some fluff to the bottom of each existing tree. While constructing our new builds off of the really well balanced existing builds is easy for Blizzard, it can leave a sour taste in many mouths that were hoping for a completely new playstyle like Mutilate and Shadowstep provided for Rogues in TBC. These moves still provide a lot of value, however; so let's examine the first two and find out exactly if they're worth the investment of an additional 10 points.
Let's start with Assassination. With Mutilate's positioning requirement removed and the addition of even more Poison synergy to the tree, Mutilate has really become the only viable option for a dagger-wielding Rogue. Hemo Daggers (obligatory "lol") and Combat Daggers are relics of the past: if you want to do it from behind (or now in the front!) with daggers, you're spec'ing Mutilate. It's a great ability that really defines the playstyle for a dagger Rogue.
Hunger for Blood is the newest addition to the Assassination tree. The best correlation to an existing spell or talent I can think of would be Tiger's Fury for Feral Druids, though Hunger for Blood (also HfB) is really much more powerful than that. The core idea is a damage increase to the tune of 9% with 3 stacks, with a bleed removal built in.
The energy cost is not nearly as steep as many Rogues will tell you it is. Any 51 point Assassination player will have also picked up Overkill, which reduces to cost of all abilities used while stealthed and immediately after by 10 energy; and HfB can be used without breaking stealth. So, for a mere 60 energy (6 seconds time) you can boost your opening damage by 9% for 30 seconds – making this spell blow similar talents like Master of Subtlety out of the water.
For just 30 energy every 30 seconds (or 3 seconds time) you can refresh the effect, preserving your 9% damage increase on ALL attacks. 90 energy for 60 seconds of 9% more damage sounds more than fair to me, especially when 60 of it can be spent while stealthed and before the fight even starts. It would cost 75 energy and 15 combo points to keep Slice and Dice up that long, which only increases your white damage, and would not be active at the start of a fight.
The HfB goodness doesn't stop their either. It also removes one Bleed effect per cast, and if it does remove a Bleed, it costs 15 less energy. This will give Mutilate Rogues a huge boost in mobility, as they can ensure that Deep Wounds or Rupture won't break their single Vanish (no Prep with HfB). Improved Gouge into HfB to remove any Bleeds; now Rogues can consistently restealth against enemy Rogues and Warriors. This will prove key to the viability of Mutilate in the arena at 80, and it will make HfB that much easier to keep up.
The only caveat to HfB is that it can be dispelled via Tranquilizing Shot and Anesthetic Poison, however Anesthetic Poison won't be used by many Rogues in the arena and will force them to choose another poison NOT to apply to you, and Tranq Shot will likely be saved to dispel a key Magic Buff off of a teammate instead of you. It will also only take off one charge from the stack, so Hunters will never be able to completely purge HfB from you unless you choose not to refresh it. And a word on keeping HfB up, some Rogues feel it adds even more micromanagement to an already bloated class. However, I feel that 1 button every 30 seconds is something we can handle: I have faith in you!
Moving on to our raiding friends (and yes, I predict Combat will still be the raiding build of choice for maximum damage), let's talk about Killing Spree. While it has already had many endearing terms attached to it (BANKAI, Limit Break, etc), it really seems to be an attempt by Blizzard to give Combat Rogues some predictable on-demand burst damage. Combat Rogues are often known as the turtle in the famous tale of the Tortoise and the Hare: slow and steady wins the race. With their only true burst coming in the form of a 5 minute cooldown Adrenaline Rush, this really gives them the edge they need to compete decently in PvP.
My test with Killing Spree at level 80 show it doing between 6k and 8k damage to a level 80 mob, while wearing blue PvP gear. Translate this to a lower amount against a player, and you still have a sizeable burst that can demolish a target in 2.5 seconds. A Fan Of Knives interrupt into Killing Spree could be the deathblow that Combat has lacked in patches past.
However, I did notice one potential use of Killing Spree that could make it a must have for Combat even if you're not planning to arena. What's the secret? Blade Flurry.
Fan of Knives + Blade Flurry + Killing Spree. And yes, all Killing Spree hits will be under the effect of Blade Flurry. I literally dumped 20,000 damage into two mobs in just a couple seconds. And you can do this every 2 minutes! I suggest using Killing Spree while low on energy, as you will regain a ton of energy in the 2.5 seconds of inactivity when adding the 5 possible Combat Potency procs. Combat Rogues are positioned to continue their place as the ultimate PvE class in both solo and group settings. Add in the additional defensive capabilities the tree has received, and it may just be strong enough to see some combat Rogues in the SK100.
That about sums up two of the new 51 point talents for the Rogue class. As always, your spec is your own, and how you choose to use your talent points should reflect the playstyle you prefer. In a PvE setting, I would say every Rogue should pick up HfB if they are already Mutilate or looking to switch to daggers. In PvP, Preparation becomes very attractive instead, making it a very close call between the two. And any Combat Rogue that wants to PvP should pick up Killing Spree, and it will remain to be theorycrafted if there are better talents elsewhere for maximum PvE DPS. As for Shadow Dance? You'll have to wait until next week!