Your goal is firmly in sight: your rogue is ready to being his or her assault upon the Lich King's lands. With only a fleeting few levels between you and the level cap, these last few minutes are among the most important in your rogue's development. With nearly every trick available and our DPS rotations fleshed out, your rogue will be feeling more and more like the level 80 you are about to become.
All three talent trees are fairly viable for leveling, and so this is by far the most flexible period of the leveling process. As I mentioned in the last installment, experimenting with different specs, rotations, and playstyles will only become harder and harder to do once you reach level 80. During these important formative levels, max out your respect costs and give every build a fair shake. You'll be a better rogue for it in the end.
While there's only really two new moves between level 71 and level 80, one of our earliest spells gets a complete makeover. Feint, which we learn at level 16, finally becomes the spell we always knew it could be. If used, it reduces all AoE damage that a rogue will take for 6 seconds. This spell alone will save you a hundred times while raiding, as there is plenty of AoE damage being thrown around. You won't pick up Rank 8 (the version with the bonus) until level 78, but be sure to use it in any dungeons you explore while leveling up. Sap sees a similar change at level 71, with its Rank 4 version offering a rogue the ability to sap Beasts, Demons, and Dragonkin in addition to its normal effects. This is great for sapping the pets of your opponents, and since there's such a large variety of fauna in Northrend, you'll be using it lots. -Thanks for catching this, Shadowmute!
Prior to that, you'll be receiving one of, in my opinion, our "signature moves". Tricks of the Trade is our threat redirection / damage boost combo, which sees extensive use in both PvE and PvP. In a raid or dungeon environment, it becomes the tank's best friend, and can really make your dungeon experiences much smoother. In certain fights where DPS gain significant buffs (like Hodir), Tricks of the Trade is crucial to a tank being able to maintain aggro on a mob. It can even be a DPS buff to share with another rogue during "burst phases" of certain fights. Tossing this to your partner in PvP can often be enough to score a kill, as the damage bonus is significant.
One of the reasons I see TotT as so integral to the WotLK rogue is its integration into the new T10 set. The 2 piece set bonus makes TotT yield energy instead of costing it, resulting in a significant DPS boost for everyone involved. We want to cast it more often, it allows more threat to be redirected due to increased energy, and it results in a higher uptime on friendly DPS classes. Imagine it as a poor level 80's Renataki's Charm of Trickery: pop it when you're low on energy to give you just enough juice to extend that stunlock a few more seconds.
If you're leveling with a partner (either a tank or DPS), be sure to toss them TotT every time it's up. It takes the pressure off of you for incoming damage (and rogues are pretty frail in that regard) and boosts their damage, making the entire leveling process much quicker. You can check out my guide to macros to find a great TotT macro that will let you set it to an easy keybind and forget about targeting someone to cast it on.
The final move a rogue receives on their journey is also their just reward for reaching level 80. Fan of Knives has become a true game-changer for the way that rogues play. We're no longer relegated to throwing grenades or making campfires in the back of the raid during AoE phases. Fan of Knives has been one of the top AoE abilities in the game today due to its unique scaling and properties. If you want to learn more about this ability, I wrote a full article dedicated to all of its intricacies. Let it suffice to say that if it weren't for FoK, rogues would be nowhere near our current spot at the top 10% of the damage meters. Yogg+0 and Anub'Arak hard mode are two fights where FoK simply outshines every competitor, and resulted in both world first kills of the last two "end bosses" seeing rogues at the top of the meters.
While I strongly recommend you go crazy experimenting with specs while leveling, I would also caution you that due to the repetition of leveling and grinding, bad habits will eventually work their way into your subconscious. If you start letting Slice and Dice drop while you're farming the Scourge, it will work against you later, when it's actually pretty important. Start reading up on raiding rotations and playstyles, and try mimicking those as much as possible.
If you're playing as Mutilate, it's a great time to work on keeping Hunger for Blood up full time, while trying to maintain a good Slice and Dice uptime via Cut to the Chase + Envenom or Eviscerate. As Combat, keeping Slice and Dice up full time should be your goal, while also using your cooldowns wisely to take out 2+ mobs when Blade Flurry is available and destroying elites with Evasion and Killing Spree. Subtlety rogues should be looking out to also keep Slice and Dice up (I told you it was our most important ability!) and keeping the Hemorrhage debuff active while also using good energy management to maximize your finishers.
By doing the little things like keeping the right poison on both weapons, using the right gems (even if they're just green quality), and starting to work on your end game rotations, you'll be building the foundation for a long and prosperous life as a rogue. Take pride in your achievement of nearing level 80, and focus on refining your playstyle to the point that it becomes second nature. I talked about a few combat opener / sequences last time, and finding out how to go from an opener to a dead opponent in the most efficient way should be your objective.
While this will certainly change once Cataclysm is released, the message is still relevant today: focus on reputation quest hubs. There's several reputations you'll want access to once you hit level 80, and working on their quests while they still give experience is simply making them twice as awesome. The Sons of Hodir are key for their shoulder enchants (and decent starting weapons), while the Knights of the Ebon Blade will sell you a great helm enchant if you perform enough of their dirty deeds. Read up on which reputations yield what gear, and then go to their areas and quest your heart out. Anything that you can do while leveling to give you an easier time at level 80 is like pure gold.
Level 70 gear:
One last tip for the leveling rogue, you can often find level 70 gear that players had stashed in their banks available on the AH for mere fractions of their original price. Level 70 BoE gear, epic gems, and consumables will greatly increase your leveling speed, so check the AH for any relics from level 70 that are left over that you can score for yourself. I find that the old DPS flasks and BoE level 70 blues are typically only a few gold total, which should be affordable with all of the questing and grinding you've been doing.
I know that many of you are already level 80, and you're interested in reading about the things that are affecting us now. However, there are still a ton of rogues that are leveling up, and we honestly need the fresh blood as the "great rogue to death knight reroll exodus" of WotLK left us pretty decimated. Look at the bright side, you won't have to read another leveling column until Cataclysm! To those rogues who are just entering the fold at level 80, we welcome you with open arms, and we look forward to stabbing those cursed cloth-wearers and praying for Armor Penetration trinkets at your side.