The combat rogue is standing in front of the diplomat. He grabs the noble's fine silk shirt by the collar and throws him into a table surrounded by rough-looking men. Their drinks and food and dishes fill the otherwise silent bar with a raucous noise as they hit the ground. As the rogue approaches the table, the men rise from their seats and reach for their weapons.
Unfortunately for them, the agile rogue draws his tools faster. He then unleashes a barrage of stored adrenaline into his blood stream and begins smashing the bar's patrons and the unconscious diplomat with a flurry of blows from two very heavy-looking maces. Moments later, he is the only one left standing amidst a pile of bodies. He kicks the door of the bar open and walks down the street into the night. He does not close the door.
What is combat?
Combat is one of the main talent trees of the rogue class and home to the some of the most powerful cooldowns in the game. Combat is the bread and butter of every rogue PvE build, and you won't see any serious spec neglecting to point several points in the center tree. Combat rogues focus on maximizing their physical damage and pass up many poison and subtlety options to become the masters of open combat. White damage (auto attacks) will make up the core of your damage, while yellow (special) and poison damage will fall behind. Combat is the least complex of any rogue spec, as it focuses on very simple ideas that lead to very powerful results.
- Amazing multi-target and AoE DPS
- Potent cooldowns for every situation, ensuring you're never out-muscled
- Flexible gear selection, since combat values both ArP and haste
- Works with many weapon combinations (just about anything except a main-hand dagger)
- Short ramp-up time and simple rotation allowing for powerful target swaps
- A fairly unique raid debuff: Savage Combat
- Due to their simplicity, rotations that can feel very repetitive
- Can lose to Mutilate in raw DPS on certain encounters
- No movement speed buff means sacrificing an enchant and still moving slower
- Very weapon-dependent, due to high physical/poison damage ratio
- Weak against highly armored targets
Get used to agility and stamina; you'll be seeing them on just about every piece of gear you get. Luckily for combat rogues, we don't really have a "bad" stat like mutilate does, and so just about any rogue gear will work for a combat build. The only catch is that gearing can be a bit complicated due to the unique scaling of armor penetration, which I'll discuss in detail in a bit.
- Attack power Even though it's disappearing in Cataclysm, you'll still want plenty of attack power in the meantime. While it's not our best stat (like it is for assassination), every one of our damaging attacks scales with attack power, so there's never a downside to picking it up on your gear. You won't find yourself gemming for it, but several of our enchants will be AP-based. We also get a great 4% boost to our AP through a combat talent, which means that it scales particularly well for us. AP boosts all of our damage.
- Agility While mutilate rogues can run into crit cap issues, most combat rogues don't have that problem. We don't typically have the 5% extra crit from Close Quarters Combat since we're most often found using swords or axes, and so we have 5% extra crit to give. This means that agility is particularly valuable to us, as we get full benefit from the attack power and critical strike bonuses it provides. Since less of our damage is poison-based, it also means that a larger portion of our damage will see the critical strike boost, making agility a top stat for combat. If your armor penetration is low, be sure to investigate agility gems as your cut of choice. Agility boosts all of our damage via AP and our physical damage via the critical strike bonus.
- Critical strike Combat rogues see one of the highest critical strike damage modifiers in the game via Prey on the Weak, which ensures that crit remains a valuable stat for us. With a high enough crit rate, we begin seeing extra combo points from our Glyph of Sinister Strike. Otherwise, crits don't have any special interaction with combat rogues, unlike mutilate, which gains both energy and combo points on critical strikes. Critical strike rating boosts both our physical and poison damage.
- Haste Because such a high percentage of a combat rogue's damage will come from white damage, having a high haste value is key to ensure we're attacking as often as possible. Additional haste also means additional procs from Combat Potency, which is the only way that a combat rogue's energy regeneration scales with gear. Haste is not typically our most desired stat but it is valuable enough that we won't shun a piece of gear with haste present. Mutilate rogues may snub our ArP gear, but we're happy to take their leather off of their hands. Haste boosts our energy regeneration and our white and poison damage.
- Hit rating Again, combat rogues will do an incredibly large portion of their damage as simple auto-attacks. The more hit you have, the more of those auto-attacks will land and the more reliable your DPS will become. Obviously we want to aim for hitting the poison hit cap; additional poison after that point is still very valuable, as well. We get a free 5% hit from Precision that doesn't show up on the character screen, so be certain to factor that into any equation. Hit rating boosts all of our damage.
- Expertise We pick up a free 10 expertise points from a combat talent, which means we're already 40% of the way to our goal of 26 expertise. Unfortunately, with the high amounts of expertise on gear in ICC, this means that it's far easier for us to go over the cap on accident. Planning around your passive expertise and the expertise you find on gear will be a constant challenge. Expertise is very important to a combat rogue, as it again boosts our white swing damage, which is the most efficient way to take your combat spec to the top. If you end up over the expertise cap, you can drop a talent point from Weapon Expertise and pick up another utility talent instead. Expertise boots all of our damage, as more white swings mean more poison procs as well.
- Armor penetration The elephant in the room! Maybe I should've started with this one. Armor penetration is one of the reasons that combat is still competitive today, as it provides combat rogues with a very powerful scaling option that ensures we have a shot at topping the DPS meters. Armor penetration scales such that the more you have, the more valuable it is. This means that there is essentially a "break even" point, at which point it becomes advantageous to swap all of our gems and gear for ArP all at once. It's sort of a catch-22 where you need ArP to want ArP, and that can be confusing for a lot of rogues. The key is to just take whatever gear comes your way and continue to experiment with your setup in a spreadsheet until you see a point at which ArP begins to trump all else in terms of value. Armor penetration boosts all of our physical damage.
- Strength is pretty bad for us, as it costs more itemization points than agility and only yields 1 AP per point. Forget about any gear with strength on it; that match-up was simply not meant to be. That doesn't mean that the plate classes will leave our agility leather alone. Leather is particularly attractive because it has five stats instead of four stats, so be quick to fight off any warriors or death knights try to mooch gear off you. Spell power is also pretty terrible for us, but luckily anyone wearing a dress is so afraid to upset a rogue that they don't dare cross us.