I want to open this week's column with a quick anecdote from the life of a rogue: My fianceé's low-level shaman was being camped in Felwood by a higher-level warlock. I did my roguish duties and took care of the problem, via a sharp dagger through the rib cage. The warlock escalated the situation by bringing out a retribution paladin, whom I also dispatched. After fighting (read: them dying a lot) for some time, I was watching over the paladin's corpse. I saw him resurrect, mount, and ride off, and pursued him in stealth.
I used Sprint, used Preparation, Sprinted again, and finally used my rocket boots to make up the ground. The paladin had left my sight range, due to Crusader Aura and my slowed movement in stealth, but I did not stop running. Watching me, my ward asked why I would pursue the target after they had clearly escaped my grasp. My instincts as a rogue have been honed after years of playing the class, and I am familiar in the ways of tracking my opponents. I said simply, "The wounded enemy always stops to eat". About 10 seconds later, I found the paladin sitting and eating some biscuits behind a tree (his long guild name gave him away). A few short moments later, and there was one less living soul in Felwood that night. Do you have any stories of "rogue moments" that made you certain you chose the right class at the character creation screen?
I have a lot of characters. While I'm not sporting a geared 80 of every flavor, I do enjoy playing a variety of classes. Now, I don't know how many of you are in a similar situation, but with so many toons to manage, it can be pretty hard to focus on any one's needs at a time. I've always got to weigh the pros and cons of every decision: figuring out who I should buy gear for, who I should be saving my emblems on, and what my upgrade paths looks like. It can be tough work, and needless to say, I spend a good deal of time each week filling out various spreadsheets and trying to map out a plan.
Now, if you've been working on gearing up your rogue recently, you'll likely have noticed a distinct lack of hit and expertise on much of the gear that we can find in ICC. We've only got a single piece of tier gear with hit on it, as opposed to the 2-3 items of our previous WotLK sets. In addition, expertise has been particularly hard to balance, with only 3 leather slots itemized for expertise at all. Take into account that we're also trying to work around various caps, and it can be a real nightmare to get your character where you need to be. I've decided to dive deep into the loot tables to find out how to balance our hit and expertise books with minimal effort.
I really don't want to have this post devolve into a lot of me spamming various numbers around and shouting about caps and what not. Let's get the dirty work out of the way ahead of time so we can focus on the fun stuff: loot. For a quick reference guide of various stat caps, I like to use Accomp's guide at RogueDPS.com, as it lists everything in an easy-to-read format. A rogue should shoot for 315 hit rating as a minimum these days. That's enough to get you hitting with your poisons at every opportunity, with or without the 3% hit buff from one of the hybrid casters. Because our poisons do so much damage now, especially as Mutilate, maintaining the Poison Hit Cap is really key to doing good DPS. Now, Mutilate will often want way more hit than that due to crit cap issues, and hit is still a great stat over the cap for both specs. Don't shy away from more than 315 (if a spreadsheet says so), but be sure not to dip below that.
We know that as rogues in ICC, we really want to pick up our 2-piece Tier 10 bonus as soon as possible. It's crazy good, and easily the best bonus we've seen this expansion. Now, we will have to pick which two pieces of the set we want to use. The helmet is a no-brainer choice, as it's the only piece that isn't missing a socket when compared a competitive 251/264 non-set piece. Unfortunately for us, this excludes us from being able to use the Geistlord's Punishment Sack, which is one of only 5 leather items with hit on them in ICC10/25. For many rogues, it will also be out of reach, as many 25m guilds are still busy tackling the Plagueworks.
The helmet of our T10 set is great, but what should we use for the second piece to complete the bonus? Considering how hit-starved we are, I would suggest picking up the Shadowblade Pauldrons. They're our only tier piece with hit on them, they've got a red socket which is always great, and they're cheap on the emblem fund as well. However, these shoulders only really get us 20% of the way to our hit goals (and exactly 20%, if you're looking at the 251 version). That means we're going to need about 4 more hit items of roughly this quality to get up to the magic 315 number, or beyond. There are two more pieces of leather with on them, the Soulthief's Braided Belt and Gangrenous Leggings. Unfortunately for the Soulthief's belt, we already have an amazing 264 belt available from the Emblem of Frost vendor, so it's unlikely you'll be using that one for long.
Luckily, our Ashen Verdict reputation ring is kind enough to carry some hit on it as well. The top-end version sports a full 59 hit on it, and a yellow socket that could easily be used for another hit gem to bring you closer to the goal. Remember to examine a spreadsheet before deciding on gem choices, but know that this ring is so good that you'll be using it anyway. That gets us 40% of the way to 315, so let's start looking for our other options. We could augment the reputation ring with the Band of the Bone Colossus or with one of the two +hit necklaces in ICC: Precious's Putrid Collar or Wodin's Lucky Necklace.
You'll have to be lucky to win Wodin's necklace though (pun intended), as it's a BoE and your raid may treat those items differently. If you do have good luck with BoEs, you may be able to score Ikfirus's Sack of Wonder, which is a hit/expertise double threat, and is a very popular chest among rogues. If you can get your hands on one, be sure to pick it up, as it can help to solve two capping problems at once. Ranged weapons are also a great place to pick up hit rating if you can, as the Njordnar Bone Bow and Gluth's Fetching Knife sport hit, and are on relatively easy bosses to topple.
Other than the items I've mentioned, there's only a few other hit rating items in ICC that are available for rogue usage. There is one amazing trinket I should mention, the Tiny Abomination in a Jar, which sports a ton of hit and happens to be pretty great for rogues as well. Unfortunately, it drops from Professor Putricide on 25-man mode, which is more than many guilds can handle. If your guild can handle him, this trinket will help boost you up to the cap, as well as being one of the coolest melee trinkets I've ever seen.
If you thought hit rating was scarce, wait until you hear about our expertise. Expertise really has a hard cap at 132 for combat or 214 for Mutilate, and even less if you've got a racial bonus for either. There's only one combination of items that I could find that will put you exactly at the expertise cap, and most combinations will put you way over without even trying. The item with the lowest amount of expertise that we can find in ICC is the Seal of Many Mouths, which sports 52 expertise. The most we see on an ICC item is 92, which is what the previously mentioned Ikfirus's Sack, our Sanctified Shadowblade Legplates, and the Shadow Seeker's Tunic (which can be bought with Emblems of Frost). There's literally a pair of items that will have us over the expertise cap already, wasting precious gear budget on worthless stats.
Out of a total of 4 leather items with expertise in ICC, there are actually only 3 slots: chest, legs, and boots. If you're combat, you can't use any combination of these items or else you'll be over the cap already. All 4 of these items are also easily obtainable (one crafted, one BoE, one from VoA/emblems, one from emblems only), it can really hurt if you get lucky with all of this gear and yet can only wear one piece of it. Make sure you don't waste any gold or emblems if your final gearing strategy involves another expertise piece, as you'll be destined for trouble trying to equip both. I recently crafted the Footpads of Impending Death for myself, and now I have to worry about finding a chest piece with a decent stat mix because I've locked myself out from buying one. Even if I were to score an item like the Shawl of Nerubian Silk, I would still end up having to gem for expertise. And remember, expertise gems only go as low as 10 per epic gem, so if you need 25 expertise rating, you're stuck spending using 30 expertise to get to the cap.
After my own gear-searching and also talking with other rogues, many of us are gemming for expertise to make it to the cap. Hitting the expertise cap is particularly important for Mutilate, due to the previously mentioned crit cap issues. The fact is that there are nearly no ways to get just the 'right' amount of expertise from gear anymore, and so we're typically stuck putting in expertise gems to make ends meet. That's part of the problem with the hard-cap expertise stat: there's not even a slight benefit for exceeding the cap. Hit, at least, provides a decent return when over the Poison Hit Cap, and is generally pretty useful to the point where it's really hard to stack it too high. Expertise, on the other hand, can be broken with just two simple and easily obtained items. With its relative scarcity on gear, we don't have too many options either: so be sure to choose gear that keeps you on the right side of that very thin line.
The key to successfully choosing gear and properly gemming and enchanting it is to use a spreadsheet. There are exceptions to every rule, and every individual situation requires individual consideration. However, there are also pretty simple goals you can have in mind when choosing your gearing path, and so be sure to consider the hit and expertise caps yourself when trying to choose gear. There's nothing worse than wasting your hard-earned emblems, DKP, or what have you on gear that ends up being inferior to what you already had. If you're committed to using a particular item, realize that the rest of your gear has to complement that item by conforming to the caps and balances that are set in place. Figure out how you're going to get to 26 expertise first, and then start working on getting the gear that will get you there.