PvP is hard to discuss in writing. (I'm not talking about how to properly 4-gate your opponent on Shakuras Plateau, but rather about WoW's player-vs-player content.) It's a relatively easy task to distill a PvE encounter into a list of salient points, but that's because raid bosses aren't random. Magmaw is going to do the same thing against every single raid group that encounters him, and so our strategies for countering him are fairly unilateral. We're playing rock-paper-scissors with the developers, except that we know they're going to throw paper ahead of time. All we have to do is successfully become scissors, and the raid bosses will fall over and explode with purples -- they're just loot piñatas.
PvP, meanwhile, is impossible to condense into a single strategy. In a raid setting, most classes use less than a dozen simple abilities on any given encounter. In an arena or battleground, players will be drawing from the deepest, darkest pages of their spellbooks to gain any advantage. I can't tell you what that warrior on the opposing team is going to do, because he can literally do anything. Instead of trying to make some sort of overly complicated flowchart in an attempt to remove all decision-making from PvP, you have to adjust and react on the fly. The key to surviving in this volatile environment is to maintain control of the tempo -- you need to fight on your terms.
Back to our RTS roots
Tempo, by definition, refers to the speed or pace of a musical piece. If we translate tempo into gamer terminology, we're talking about the action/reaction chain of events. You see your opponent perform some sort of action, and you then counter that with your reaction. Controlling this back-and-forth process of decisions is what lets you set the tempo. If you are controlling the tempo of a match, then you get to call the shots. Are you using your abilities to counter your opponent's actions, or are they using their spells in order to counter you? Being ahead in tempo means that you have the advantage, giving you the upper hand. If you're saying to yourself, "I have to do this because they did that," then you're behind in the tempo battle.
I recently watched a great Starcraft 2 match where the Protoss player quickly built up a significant aerial army. Normally the Protoss player would control the tempo of the match, forcing his Zerg opponent to react by building an anti-air army to counter. The Zerg reacted in the opposite manner, building an army that completely ignored the air units and attacked the Protoss base head-on. The tables were turned, and now the Protoss player was left scrambling with nothing but a feeble air army that was useless for defense. The Zerg player was able to control the tempo by forcing his opponent to react to him instead of allowing his decisions to be guided by the other player's actions.
Cooldowns and crowd control set the pace
Controlling the tempo of PvP is a constant tug-of-war with both sides trying to wrest the reins from the other. Rogues are uniquely suited for this battle, due to our cooldowns and crowd-control abilities. By using our CDs and CCs to negate the effects of our opponents' decisions, we can then use our own actions to force their hand. If we're using Blind and Kidney Shot on our enemies, we can force them to use their PvP trinkets, which then opens a window of opportunity for using a long-term CC on them. If we pop Cloak of Shadows against an enemy mage, we force them to stop attacking us. Smoke Bomb allows us to make a healer move to a new location or to force a warrior to retreat.
Rogue damage in PvP is not that impressive. In this case, PvP mirrors PvE, where subtlety rogues aren't brought for their damage, but instead for their survivability and utility. A rogue's best weapon is their ability to influence the tempo of PvP, which allows their teammates the flexibility necessary to win a battle. While obviously our damage is non-zero and we can apply pressure via our cooldowns, the days of bursting a target from full life down to dead in just seconds are over.
The best rogue uses Thunderfury
While there are several amazing players representing the rogue class in the upper echelons of WoW's arena system, none of them have the same reputation and recognition as Reckful. Reckful created a great video that highlights how important a rogue can be to controlling a PvP match. Between our stuns, CCs, snares, and CDs, rogues can dictate the pace of a battle. In the video, Reckful shows how we can use Gouge and Kidney Shot to stop our enemies from killing their intended targets, and how Dismantle and Crippling Poison can be used to slow them down when CC isn't working. His enemies have a very clear goal of focusing down one of the softer targets on his team, and he is able to control the tempo by preventing them from achieving their goals while substituting his own.
In one of the battle sequences, Reckful is using the fist weapon set from Zul'Gurub. I'm not talking about the newly revamped Zul'Gurub dungeon that drops ilvl 353 gear, but the original Zul'Gurub raid and its level 60 epics. He's able to play with these weapons because his control is the most important thing he brings to a fight, not his damage. Adrine, of PoisonSwapper and Shadowcraft fame, has personally attested to seeing Reckful playing in the arena with the legendary weapons from the days of old, Thunderfury and one of the Warglaives. When one of the most successful arena players of all time is able to use gear that's literally years behind and still succeed, it's hard to argue with the results.
Don't equip bad weapons
Just because Reckful can PvP with level 60 gear doesn't mean that you should. At any other than the top echelon of play, your damage is still going to play an important role. The point of Reckful's brazen antics is to reinforce the idea that control is our most important weapon. The World of Roguecraft videos emphasized the same thing many years ago, showing a rogue destroying targets without any gear equipped besides a level 1 dagger. Our ability to control our targets and set the tempo sets us apart from every other class in the game. We may never have a death knight's powerful burst or a retribution paladin's extensive buff toolkit, but they'll also never be able to control a fight like we can.
Cleave comps like to believe that the best defense is a good offense, so they'll turn on their tunnel vision and zerg down your healer. Outlast comps like to believe that the best offense is a good defense, so they'll simply try to survive longer than you. Your job as a rogue is to upset the balance by being an agent of chaos. If they're trying to burst someone down, you prevent them from attacking with Kick and Dismantle while using CC to stop their onslaught. If they're trying to avoid your team, you apply pressure and CC to put them into a situation where they're forced to engage on your terms.
Forget being an assassin, because PvP has moved on. Instead, we're now the point guards for our teammates, using our diverse toolset to assist them in getting an open shot.
Check back every Wednesday for the latest rogue strategies, from rogue basics and kicking your interrupts into high gear to how to handle your dual-spec rogue and how to pickpocket top tips from top-performing rogues.