We've been through a lot in 2009. It seems like every time we get settled on a spec or playstyle, Blizzard flipped it around with the next content patch. With each raid dungeon released, the top DPS build seemed to bounce to a different tree every time. I would say that rogues are probably in the top 3 classes for 'most change received' in 2009, especially when talking about changes that redefine the class completely. While death knights will complain that all they saw was the nerf bat this year, rogues have matured as a class and are far more versatile than where we were in January.
We exited last year with Mutilate reigning over Combat, daggers standing triumphant at their long-awaited return to a rogue's hands. Early Naxxramas raids had me convinced that I had better start enjoying the Assassination tree, because a double Webbed Death rogue was a force to be reckoned with. Our PvP viability looked something like it always had: the ultimate ganking machine, but not much else. Let's explore some of the changes that took us from our previous one-trick-pony status to the versatile killers that we are today.
10) Patch 3.0.8 – Removal of the cooldown on Fan of Knives
Starting us off early in 2009, Blizzard took the 10 second cooldown off of our only true AoE ability. Previously, it was good to cast on trash when possible but wasn't able to be used enough to put a dent in the complete caster domination of the AoE damage boards. Rogues were used to the treatment, and I'm pretty sure the myth that 'trash DPS doesn't count' was created by an assassin with a sore ego.
Blizzard decided at some point that AoE DPS wasn't a 'role' they wanted any particular class to possess, and started to spread the love. Elemental shamans got an updated Fire Nova, which boosts their AoE power by 1%. Rogues received the FoK cooldown removal, which has skyrocketed us to #1 AoE DPS. FoK has become an integral part of the class, and it really gave rogues the depth to play multiple roles in the same fight. Combined with Tricks of the Trade, we have an unrivaled ability to control AoE threat and completely redefine tanking strategies on the hardest fights in the WotLK instances to date.
9) Patch 3.0.8 – Feint now reduces AoE damage taken
On the reverse side of the FoK change, we saw a new feature added to the very old ability Feint. It was previously an in-joke among rogues that anyone with any skill didn't even have the ability on their bar any more. Now, with its updated 50% area damage reduction on-use effect, it's one of the abilities that really allows a knowledgeable rogue showcase their finesse. Emalon, Krick & Ick, and Freya are just a few of the fights where knowing when to Feint can literally save your life. It gave rogues some depth in the PvE and PvP scenes, where all of our previous defense were essentially long CDs that would get us out of one jam per fight. Now, we've actually got a reactionary ability that's on a very short CD, that can add a lot of flavor and fun into an otherwise boring DPS rotation.
8) Patch 3.1 – Hunger for Blood redesign
Hunger for Blood's clunky mechanic was so bad, I dedicated an entire article to describing how much it made me hate playing Mutilate. Blizzard has tweaked, prodded, and transformed Hunger for Blood so many times over the past year that I don't even remember the initial iteration. I believe in patch 3.1, they finally found the happy medium they were looking for. They doubled its duration to a minute, removed the stacking requirement, and dropped the energy cost through the floor. While they're still using it as a knob to tweak our damage today, it has really matured from an ill-conceived attempt to make Mutilate viable into a decent ability that adds just the right amount of flavor to Mutilate.
7) Patch 3.2 – Axes, axes, axes
What can I say about axes that I already haven't? I think we should've started out being able to use axes, I have not stopped thinking about race-changing my rogue to an Orc since the change was announced, and I am very proud that Blizzard decided to throw us a treat instead of allow the 'Hero Class' to steal Fist Weapons from us instead. I love using axes, and I'm currently sporting Nighttime from the heroic version of Forge of Souls. While I'm sad that I can't find a great OH axe to go with it, I am still excited to know that my transformation into the lumberjack rogue is 50% complete!
6) Patch 3.1 – PPM Poisons
One of our biggest changes in '08 was the buffing of our utility poisons to a new 50% rate, essentially guaranteeing application of whichever poisons we were using. Unfortunately, our new poison scheme was so strong, that it became the focus of the entire class. You wanted to be Mutilate for the poison bonuses, and you wanted to use the quickest daggers possible (at the cost of physical damage) to maximize your poison output. There was no concern for anything besides poison! Webbed Death was best-in-slot, and a blue heroic drop was close behind.
By moving Instant Poison to the new PPM mechanic, Blizzard really broke the stranglehold that Mutilate had on competitive rogue DPS. It also allowed slower weapons, such as all of the Kel'Thuzad drops, to be viable for the rogues who had picked them up. Poisons have undergone so many changes in 2009, that they are now truly an integrated part of our DPS and our class as a whole; instead of a temporary weapon enchantment that we ignore 99% of the time.
5) Patch 3.1 – Lightning Reflexes and Savage Combat buffed
Patch 3.1 was designed to get Combat back into a rogue's PvE arsenal, but unfortunately, it worked too well. The buffs to LR and SC were so strong, that current Mutilate builds depend on LR's haste as a core part of their build. Combat went from a mid-tier DPS tree into the chart-topping build that we saw taking over in Ulduar. With hard mode fights pushing cooldown usage to the limits, Combat truly saw its 15 minutes of fame as all of the previously Mutilate rogues continued to run Naxx25, praying for a Calamity's Grasp to drop.
4) Patch 3.1 / 3.2.2 – Envenom buffed to compensate
Blizzard realized that they had gone too far with the Combat changes in patch 3.1, and even teased us with a possible Glyph of Envenom, allowing a Mutilate rogue to ignore their Deadly Poison stacks altogether. Unfortunately, Assassination rogues were forced to wait until patch 3.2.2 to see this change to fruition. Blizzard added a change to Master Poisoner that allowed Envenom to not consume our Deadly Poison stacks, which was a significant logistical and literal buff to Mutilate rogues everywhere. In fact, if it weren't for this change, we wouldn't have even seen the #2 patch note on this list!
3) Patch 3.1 – Armor Penetration
Blizzard probably went too far in patch 3.1 to ensure that Combat rogues would never be benched again. With the addition of epic gems and another Armor Penetration trinket via Mjolnir Runestone, stacking ArP allowed Combat to reach DPS values completely unheard of by any other DPS class around. While we're not going to see much of ArP in Cataclysm, rest assured that it played its important role in nerfing Mutilate and buffing Combat when rogues needed it the most.
Many rogue 'old-timers' are stuck in their ways and believe that it's Combat or nothing when it comes to rogue specs. When Mutilate ruled Naxx's charts, I saw many of my long-time brothers of the shadows give up their weapons and leave the game. Keeping Combat fun is a key part in retaining the rogue population, while maintaining the viability of other specs is what will keep us interested in the long-term.
2) Patch 3.1 / 3.3 – Deadly Poison turns the tables
Besides the title being a great Assassination pun, Deadly Poison really did turn things around for us in 2009. With its buff in patch 3.1 to a 50% larger scaling coefficient, and its recent transformation into Mutilate's savior, it has been the knob that Blizzard uses to keep both specs in line. It killed any hopes of an Instant Poison-based Shiv build by outscaling both, it killed the dual IP / no Envenom Mutilate build, and it even set a 3.3 Mutilate rogue's DPS to an astronomical number. Though Blizzard tuned down Hunger for Blood to compensate, it was Deadly Poison that started the fire.
1) WotLK – Combat vs Mutilate with no clear winner
Without Deadly Poison, Mutilate would be in shambles while Combat ruled the castle. Without the Slice and Dice buff to 40% haste and Lightning Reflexes transformation into a talent worth taking, where would our scaling be now? Without Fan of Knives, we would be snubbed when asking to go on a raid where there's any fight with more than a couple targets. And without the overarching poison changes, we'd all still be dual-wielding Librarian's Paper Cutters just to get through a heroic. Instead, we have two completely different builds and playstyles, and we're worth bringing to a raid based on our DPS alone.
Blizzard did a great job of reintegrating rogues into the game by giving us the tools necessary to have multiple viable DPS builds, a variety of rotations based on gearing choices, and the ability to compete at the very highest end of the DPS spectrum. We're where we've always wanted to be right now, with our two DPS specs on top of the world yet both rivaling each other, many of our class' unsuccessful talents redesigned or reimagined, and holding true raid utility in the form of FoK and Tricks of the Trade. Now all we need is for that fix to Vanish to hit in time for Cataclysm, and I'll be completely satisfied.