During my regular readings of the Rogue forums, I often heard complaints regarding our Assassination 51-pointer (Hunger for Blood). The main issue is that people find with it comes from the fact that it takes our required button-pushing amounts from manageable to annoying. I was skeptical at first, as I had not been having much trouble with it in heroics and the odd Vault of Archavon run.
I initially figured Mutilate would be a more interesting rotation than the old Rupture/SnD spam that was TBC Combat Swords. With Mutilate generating way more Combo Points than Sinister Strike, and simply replacing SnD with Envenom in my raiding DPS rotation, I figured it would be business as usual. I trade off using Mutilate less than Sinister Strike by having to keep HfB up. Easy enough, right? Wrong.
After running my guild's first full Naxxramas clear last weekend, let me confess to you: I have now felt your pain. At one point during Grobbulus, I was strafing around a corner to keep in melee range of the boss, pushing '2' to Envenom to keep my nearly-faded Slice and Dice stack from falling off (thanks Cut to the Chase!), pushing '~' to open my microphone for Ventrilo so I could yell at (I mean, prompt) a healer to get out of a green poison cloud, and reaching for 'g' so I could refresh Hunger for Blood as I only had 4 seconds before losing all 3 stacks. As I'm running around the outside of the room trying to decide which button is worth letting go of (answer: I had my ret paladin fiancée yell at the healer over Vent for me) I realized exactly what many of you have been saying for the past few weeks.
Now, I won't place all the blame on HfB for our current "out of fingers" problem when raiding. Naxxramas was oft-heralded as one of the best designed instances due to its unique fight mechanics and challenging strategies (check out the old 4 Horsemen strategies for homework this week).
Having experienced its full breadth, I can tell you that there is one mechanic that Blizzard seemed to use in every fight: movement. Trying to keep moving while DPSing at the same time is now more challenging than ever. More buttons in our rotations, more timers to watch, and more complicated movements in more fights; it's the perfect storm of unmanageability.
Hunger for Blood is also an unusual mechanic for Rogues as well; at least for me. I can't tell you how many times I let HfB drop during non-combat situations like the DDR dance on Heigan or waiting for Gothik to teleport over to the Undead side of the room. It will definitely take a few more runs for me to truly get a sixth sense for keeping it up.
Many Rogues offer the idea of having HfB be 'free' to cast or being refreshed from critical Mutilates, making it much simpler to build into a rotation and effortless to keep up. The problem with HfB is that it increases all of our damage by 9%, which is wicked powerful for a single talent point. For those of your that argue that a 51-pointer should be awesome, I agree. However, with Assassination having so many DPS increasing talents by itself, adding a 'free' 9% damage is simply too much. The energy cost must remain in order for it to stay balanced. The amount of damage/energy that a Rogue can put out increases with every new piece of gear, and so to keep HfB scaling well (that is, so it doesn't get nerfed) we have to pay that cost.
I have been brainstorming (as well as reading various forums and articles) for ideas on how to resolve the HfB management problem. While some solutions like removing the energy cost seem simple, they are not balanced. The question is then presented: How can you have a spell still cost energy but yet have it cast automatically? From my research, possible resolutions come in two main flavors: a glyph or a talent modification.
As long as glyphs exist, there will be people posting glyph suggestions everywhere they can find. I have seen a few great ideas such as Glyph of Shadowstep that adds the ability to ShS while rooted, or the Glyph of Deadly Throw which returns the Silence effect to the move. Mutilate is probably worst-off when it comes to awesome glyphs, especially for the raiding scene. With no Glyph of Mutilate or Envenom, its two core abilities aren't buffed at all. However, I feel that adding a Glyph for these techniques for a PvE convenience will hinder them getting a more well-rounded Glyph in the future.
So, we're back to either adding a glyph for a PvE Mutilate talent or simply changing the talent for 'free'. The two PvE talents that are considered to be core for Assassination are Focused Attacks and Cut to the Chase. They are picked up almost exclusively for PvE content and are key for maintaining any sort of reasonable rotation. Glyphing one of these talents would be certain to resolve the HfB issue while also keeping PvP balance (no pun intended) where it's at. Here's my submission:
Glyph of Focused Attacks: Your melee critical strikes imbue you with a Taste for Blood, increasing the remaining duration of your Hunger for Blood by 2 seconds but reduces the amount of energy gained by Focused Attacks by 2. If your Hunger for Blood has between 29-30 seconds remaining or not active, you receive the full 2 energy for each melee critical strike.
Hunger for Blood has a total energy cost of 1 energy per second if it is used exactly at 0 seconds remaining (which it never is, in practice). What this glyph does is guarantee you that perfect 1 energy/second cost for HfB, which in itself is a buff; while also allowing you to completely forget about keeping it up. It would require 15 critical strikes in 30 seconds in order to maintain HfB full time without having to cast it.
A fairly well-geared Mutilate Rogue can sport between 25 and 35% melee critical strike chance unbuffed, and 40-50% in a raid environment. A Mutilate Rogue's average attack speed with quick daggers will be around 0.75 seconds (depending on daggers and haste on gear). This means a total of 80 white attacks in a 30 second duration. Figuring 10% or so will miss due to the fact that no Rogue is at or near the melee dual wield hit cap, and we're looking at about 70 total attacks actually making contact. 70 attacks with a 30% chance to crit yields around 21 critical strikes in a given 30 second window from white attacks alone.
This means that even with average gear you will be able to maintain Hunger for Blood effortlessly. It also rules for solo farming, as you can keep HfB up much easier without any of the 30 energy overhead cost affecting your opening rotations; just start attacking a target and you're golden. Any excess crits will still yield energy, meaning that in addition to ensuring a 1 energy/second ratio for HfB you also don't lose any effectiveness from Focused Attacks. Because Focused Attacks is so key to PvE Mutilate's viability, I feel that this glyph would truly be the best fit for us.
Now, as for a great 'Cut to the Chase' glyph that keeps the energy cost in place but also reduces the amount of management that HfB requires; I couldn't really figure one out that I would be confident recommending to Blizzard. So that challenge I leave up to you, readers. Put on your shadowy thinking caps and leave a comment with how you would fix HfB: whether it's with a complete redesign, new glyph, changed talent, etc. The best few ideas will be featured in next week's column! Speaking of, look for a special edition of Encrypted Text tomorrow that covers the top10 Rogue changes of 2008!