There was once a time where rogues were one of the worst soloing classes in the game. We have never had any tanking or healing abilities like the hybrid, and our fellow pure DPS classes have the advantage of ranged attacks. Rogues were simply wrecked by their enemies. While we had decent levels of dodge, our survivability depended entirely stunlocks to control our opponents. Against anything immune to stuns, we were pretty much worthless.
Times have changed. Rogues have reached levels of survivability that were previously fantasy. We remain the single best DPS class for toe-to-toe damage, and now we can actually last long enough to get the job done. Each of the three rogue specs has a purpose and a direction, and the title for top DPS spec is still up for grabs at level 85. Blizzard has already tweaked the mastery system for rogues several times to ensure that no spec is left behind. I'm looking forward to our bright future in Cataclysm.
If you've played a rogue in the past year or so, not much has changed with Cataclysm's release. Our poison preferences are the same for every spec, with Instant Poison gracing our main-hand weapons, while Deadly Poison is set on our off-hand weapons. I personally like using Wound Poison on my throwing weapon, especially since Fan of Knives now uses our throwing weapon's poison and damage. We still continue to use our energy and combo point mechanics to deal damage to our targets. We really don't have any proc-based or reactionary abilities in our arsenal, which is a major difference between us and every other class. Rogue rotations are as routine as clockwork, while other classes play more like whack-a-mole.
Major and minor glyphs
Feel free to choose your own minor glyphs, as they're really not going to affect you in any major way. I personally like Blurred Speed and Safe Fall for their utility effects, and Glyph of Poisons is pretty sweet as well. Major glyphs are similarly generic, although there are a few exceptions. The Tricks of the Trade major glyph saves us energy and is therefore a clear standout. The Glyph of Feint is also incredibly valuable if you're going to be using Feint at all in a fight, saving you significant amounts of energy. The Fan of Knives glyph can be potent if you need to AoE down a large group of enemies, although its radius is already pretty large. If you're going to be keeping up Expose Armor for your group, the EA glyph is an easy call. Combat rogues will want to invest in the Blade Flurry major glyph, as it significantly improves the usability and performance of Blade Flurry.
With the shakeup of stats in Cataclysm, our priorities have shifted significantly. Agility is now the king of all available stats, as it is now our primary source of attack power, providing 2 AP per point of agility. Attack power and armor penetration have been removed, leaving expertise, critical strike, haste, mastery, and hit ratings as our secondary options. Hit and expertise are typically incredibly high on our valuation charts until their respective caps, while the other stats vary in potency based on spec and amounts. Haste is particularly powerful due to its new function: We regenerate extra energy as we acquire more haste.
Assassination 101: A master of poisons
Assassination's focus is dealing massive poison damage, and it stays true to that paradigm in Cataclysm. It's currently projected to be the front-runner at level 85, although much can change between now and then. Assassination has a new, sharper rotation and provides a great mix of burst and sustained damage, giving it the potency needed for both solo and group play. The build requires a pair of daggers, with at least one of them having a very quick speed. It's the least weapon-dependent of the three rogue specs, and so it lends itself well to players without awesome weapons. One weakness of the build is its reliance on hit rating -- since poisons use the spell hit chance and not the melee hit chance, you need a solid chance to hit in order to maximize the effectiveness of this spec. Reforging can help you here.
Build The revamped assassination tree has a few flexible points in the build, although there are a couple of utility talents that are essentially mandatory. Quickening provides two important effects: a powerful movement speed boost that can't be replicated, and an increase in survivability. Similarly, Deadly Brew gives assassination rogues a bit of extra utility, and so these two talents will be picked up by just about every Mutilate rogue. Deadly Momentum is actually incredibly potent for leveling, and I would recommend dropping points out of Cut to the Chase if you're making a leveling build.
Glyphs Mutilate, Backstab, Rupture
Combo point generators Mutilate if target is above 35%, Backstab if below 35%.
Finisher priority Slice and Dice, Rupture, and Envenom
Cooldowns Vendetta, Overkill (via Vanish), and Cold Blood
Rotation Use the preferred combat point generator until you have 4 or more combo points, then use your finisher. Open with Slice and Dice to activate the buff, use Rupture to maintain the debuff, and use Envenom to refresh Slice and Dice. Once you reach a steady state of the rotation, you will be alternating between Rupture to keep the debuff active and using Envenom when Rupture has plenty of time left.
Leveling rotation If you're leveling with assassination, I would suggest two major changes. First, forget about Rupture altogether, as mobs typically don't last long enough for Rupture to deal significant damage. Secondly, switch your poisons to Wound/Wound and replace Envenom with Eviscerate. Unless you're in a dungeon or fighting elites, mobs will rarely survive to see a 5-stack of Deadly Poison applied, and so Eviscerate is going to let you kill faster.
Combat 101: A skillful swashbuckler
Combat's focus is dealing massive weapon damage, and it's the only rogue spec that requires non-dagger weapons. Swords, axes, maces, and fist weapons make up the core weapons of this build, although a quick dagger can be used for an off-hand weapon. It is the most weapon-dependent build in the rogue talent tree spectrum, and so it's recommended for rogues who already have awesome weapons at their current level. It has the most powerful cooldowns and the strongest survivability talents of any rogue tree. The key weakness of the build is that it deals mostly physical damage, which makes it weak against armored targets.
Blade Flurry also has the unique ability to kill two targets at once, via Blade Flurry's ability to replicate our attacks onto a second target. Blade Flurry should always (and only) be used if there are two or more targets nearby. BF used to give us extra haste and would be used as a DPS cooldown against even a single target, but that's no longer the case -- it actually hurts our energy regeneration while active. Save it for multi-mob situations.
Build The combat tree also has several free points available, and the utility talents can be customized based on your preferences. I like Blade Twisting, personally, as slowing your target is nearly always a good thing. Improved Recuperate is crazy-powerful and gives the combat rogue a major survivability boost. The wording on the talent is a bit unclear; it actually doubles the potency of Recuperate.
Glyphs Sinister Strike, Slice and Dice, Adrenaline Rush
Combo point generators Sinister Strike, Revealing Strike
Finisher priority Slice and Dice, Rupture, Eviscerate
Cooldowns Adrenaline Rush, Killing Spree, Blade Flurry (if two or more targets are active)
Rotation While keeping Slice and Dice active, generate 4 combo points via Sinister Strike. Once you have 4 points, use Revealing Strike to generate the 5th point, which also buffs your next finisher. Use Rupture if it's not active, or use Eviscerate if Rupture is already active. Don't bother using Revealing Strike before you refresh your Slice and Dice, as RS only affects damaging finishers.
Alternate rotation Simply keep Slice and Dice active, and use Sinister Strike to generate 5 combo points, and then use Eviscerate. By leaving Revealing Strike and Rupture out of the rotation, you get to greatly simplify your rotation at the cost of only 2 to 3 percent of your DPS. On fights where you're still learning the mechanics or you have a lot of various external factors to keep track of, I would recommend using the simpler rotation. Worry about maximizing your rotation and damage once you are familiar with a fight.
Subtlety 101: A dark stalker
Subtlety had its moment in the sun when Wrath was released, via a bugged talent known as Honor Among Thieves, or HAT. HAT allowed for guilds to cheese their way through encounters like heroic Sartharion and tempted every rogue into tasting the forbidden fruit of subtlety in PvE. Unfortunately, the bug was quickly fixed, and the spec was dead for the rest of Wrath. Blizzard has revamped the tree completely, taking out several of the PvP-only talents and inserting new PvE talents to keep its damage in line with the other trees. Honor Among Thieves is still a cornerstone of the build, which focuses on using a massive number of finishing moves.
The build's strength comes from its ability to use a wide variety of finishers to meet any requirements, and it has the most interesting rotation of any of the rogue trees. The number of PvP tricks like Shadowstep and Preparation also make it the de facto PvP spec. The obvious weakness of subtlety is that HAT is weak while soloing, making the build suboptimal when not in a group. In addition, Backstab makes up a large portion of subtlety's rotation, and it can be difficult to use due to its positioning requirements.
Glyphs Backstab, Slice and Dice, Eviscerate, Hemorrhage (optional)
Combo point generators Backstab, Honor Among Thieves, Hemorrhage
Finisher priority Slice and Dice, Recuperate, Rupture, Eviscerate Cooldowns Shadow Dance, Shadowstep
Rotation Slice and Dice and Recuperate should be maintained as the two top priorities. Combo points are generated both actively via generators and passively via HAT. Activate Rupture once, and then use Eviscerate to refresh its timer via the Serrated Blades talent. Hemorrhage can be used in place of Backstab if you're unable to get behind your target. During a Shadow Dance, start using Ambush in place of Backstab.
Leveling rotation While Hemorrhage may not be an amazing technique for raiding, it's great for leveling. Pick up the Hemorrhage glyph to allow it to apply a bleed effect automatically, and use it as your primary combo point generator. You can open on your targets with a powerful Ambush and then follow up with Hemorrhage, using Slice and Dice and Recuperate as you see fit. Leave Rupture to the raids, since the Glyph of Hemorrhage activates Sanguinary Vein, and only use Eviscerate as your damaging finisher.
Check back every Wednesday for the latest strategies in Encrypted Text! Read up on the most popular pre-expansion questions, deep-dives into current class mechanics, and crucial spec and glyph choices for patch 4.0.1! Not sure what your rotation is going to look like at level 85? Read the rotation guide for Cataclysm!