After Blizzard's latest press release, we know that Cataclysm will be released in early December. We already know that there will be at least one patch that precedes the expansion. The period of time between patch 4.0.1 and the expansion's actual launch is a time of transition, and it's rapidly approaching. The transition phases of The Burning Crusade and Wrath were rocky to say the least; it's safe to say that that we're looking forward to exciting times.
Many classes are hurting pretty badly on the PTR for patch 4.0.1 right now. Blizzard had the great idea of temporarily granting rogues Cloak of Shadows as our 31-point subtlety talent back in patch 2.0 to help us deal with the souped-up casters of that era. A similar change could be used to give retribution paladins access to Inquisition (at the cost of Zealotry) to bolster their damage until Cataclysm. Luckily for rogues, we were on the receiving end of the latest "damage pass." Several of our core abilities were granted significant damage and scaling bonuses to keep us competitive in a pre-Cataclysm world.
Assassination rogues master the rushdown
For as long as Mutilate has been around, assassination rogues have been begging for a cooldown. Cold Blood is nice, but with critical strike rates soaring so high that we're literally hitting the crit cap, it's less than amazing. Blizzard's team heard our cry for help, and two new cooldowns found their way into our tree. The first is actually just Cold Blood again, but Blizzard modified the ability to give us 25 energy for free every time we use it. That's a huge boon to any rogue who participates in PvP, as it emulates the great Renataki's trinket that our ancestors once used to stunlock any opponent.
Vendetta is what I like to call a win-win. First, assassination rogues receive a true cooldown via the 20 percent damage boost, and it also includes a bit of utility by making our targets unable to vanish from sight. Secondly, we get rid of Hunger for Blood and its clunky implementation, never to be seen again. The only downside is that Vendetta is a debuff, meaning that it can only be used on one target. This makes it less attractive for quick swaps to adds but gives assassination rogues something to use during the burn phase.
Speaking of the burn phase, Blizzard also gave the assassins a new playstyle to go with their cooldowns. While we'll normally ramp up at a slower pace since we're now using Rupture to proc Venomous Wounds, assassins have a trick up their sleeves for the execute phase of a fight. Once our target is below 35 percent life, our Backstab becomes supercharged. While Backstab is incredibly potent on its own, its energy cost and combo point generation are a bit lacking. Murderous Intent changes all of that by making Backstab incredibly cheap to cost, allowing us to move into a fast-paced rushdown rotation, assassin-style. Our CP generation goes up significantly and truly gives the spec a very exciting flavor once we enter the last third of any given encounter.
Skill will set combat rogues apart
I was recently poring over some of my damage parses, and I can't help but be disappointed by Eviscerate. Even when glyphed, it's only making up a few percentage points of my overall damage. A rogue could simply spam Sinister Strike and refresh Slice and Dice for an entire fight and do nearly the same DPS as I do. Combat rogues are all about maximizing cooldown effectiveness, which often amounts to using CDs alongside Bloodlust and Potion of Speed. After that, the fight's on autopilot.
Cataclysm shatters that model. The first shift is the introduction of Revealing Strike, our alternate combo point generator. While not as effective as Sinister Strike, it has a secondary effect that boosts our finisher potency. It's worth using with any finisher that can take advantage of its bonus, so we'll use it before Eviscerate but leave it out of the rotation when we're going to Slice and Dice. This mechanic adds some variety to our rotation, and I'd like to see its effect amplified. Choosing between RS and SS should be an important distinction that forces the rogue to think before acting.
Bandit's Guile may seem like a simple talent at first blush, but it's actually very interesting. Basically, our targets will be taking bonus damage from us after we use our combo point generators on them, with that bonus varying between 5, 10 and 15 percent. The 15 percent windows are important because they also create an opportunity for us to unleash our cooldowns. This creates a timing structure where we want to coordinate our damaging finishers with 15 percent windows and our Slice and Dice refreshes during 5 percent windows. While the exact mechanics and priority systems are still being investigated, the concept of coordinating our abilities with a secondary effect will create a huge gap between spamming your cooldowns immediately and the meditated actions of a trained assassin.
Subtlety even throws in the kitchen sink
Subtlety rogues have been dying for viability for a long time, and Blizzard has finally granted them what they've always wanted. Unfortunately, that right doesn't come without a sacrifice. Subtlety is slated to have the most complicated rogue rotation to date, and I've been having a very hard time managing it without addons like EventHorizon.
Subtlety has a few talents that shape its design. Hemorrhage boosts bleed damage for our raid, and so now sub rogues will be using Hemo every minute, making that the first of many timers we'll need to watch. Sanguinary Vein forces us to keep a bleed effect on our targets at all times for maximum damage, so Rupture is now part of the rotation. Just adding Rupture would be too simple, though, and so Serrated Blades allows us to use Eviscerate to refresh our Rupture. We'll open with Garrote to bleed our target early, Rupture them for the second bleed, and then use Eviscerate to refresh it after that.
Don't think that you can get away without using Slice and Dice. You'll be maintaining as close to 100 percent uptime on SnD as possible, adding yet another timer to manage. But wait, there's more! Energetic Recovery also allows subtlety rogues to add Recuperate to their repertoire, meaning that sub rogues will literally be using at least four different finishers on every fight. Let's just hope nobody asks them to keep up Expose Armor as well. Honor Among Thieves is the CP machine that will generate the number of points it will take to maintain all of these timers. We'll have to see if HAT is strong enough in the first tier of content to keep all of our abilities active.
Take all of that complexity, and now top that off with Shadow Dance and its completely draining effect on our energy. While spamming Ambush for huge numbers is fun, sub rogues may simply not have the energy to get the full use out of Shadow Dance while trying to maintain all of their finishers. I actually see Shadow Dance as our target-swap cooldown, allowing us to quickly apply Garrote and then providing some burst damage when moving to a new target. It's fun to finally be doing some serious damage with Backstab and subtlety, but it's going to be a workout for my fingers and my addons if I decide to raid as sub.
Check back every Wednesday for the latest strategies in Encrypted Text! Get ready for Icecrown Citadel with our rogue guide, part 1, part 2 (Plagueworks), part 3 (Crimson Halls) and part 4 (Frostwing Halls). Just hit 80 and need information? Try Combat 101 or Mutilate 101.