Encrypted Text: The subtlety rogue of tomorrow

Chase Christian
C. Christian|06.16.10

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Encrypted Text: The subtlety rogue of tomorrow
Every Wednesday, Chase Christian of Encrypted Text invites you to enter the world of shadows, as we explore the secrets and mechanics of the rogue class. This week, we discuss the future of subtlety rogues.

Last week, Blizzard released the Cataclysm talent preview for rogues. If you read my coverage of the changes, you noticed that I mentioned that Master of Deception is missing from the subtlety tree. While I praised the change due to the removal of the frankly dumb mechanic of stealth levels, many rogues were worried that this meant all rogues would be left with simply basic stealth and we'd be sitting ducks against any competent opponent. Luckily, Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler chimed in on the issue, and informed us that all rogues would gain the benefits of Master of Deception, and for free.

It's clear from looking at the previewed talent trees that Blizzard's design intent is to try to give each rogue tree some PvP viability. By removing three filler points that any rogue serious about PvP was forced to take, they allow us to explore other talents deeper in our core trees. Subtlety had the reverse problem, though, where the tree was too PvP focused and didn't have enough damage talents to let it compete in a raid environment. Aside from one broken talent for a few months, sub rogues have been stuck in battlegrounds and arenas in Wrath. The new subtlety tree looks to have several new DPS talents available, but will it be enough to bring this spec back to life?

Based on my own speculation on the upcoming talent trees, I believe that Blizzard wants to move every rogue spec to a two-finisher cycle. This would be similar to the currently popular Eviscerate-only combat cycle, where the only two finishers used are Slice and Dice and Eviscerate. Mutilate looks poised to start using Rupture and Envenom, giving it two finishers to use as well. However, that depends on if Venomous Wounds turns out to be powerful enough to vault Rupture over Envenom in Cataclysm. Mutilate could even entertain thoughts of a maintaining Expose Armor for only two GCDs a minute if Improved Expose Armor is picked up.

Subtlety needs a solid rotation
Where does that leave subtlety in the mix? We're not exactly swimming in damaging finishers. Even if we do talent into Energetic Recovery, I don't see Recuperate being a bread-and-butter DPS ability. Obviously subtlety will have to keep up Slice and Dice, so that's one finisher in the mix. The presence of multiple bleed talents, such as Hemorrhage, Blood Spatter, Sanguinary Vein, and Serrated Blades, points towards a Rupture-using spec as well. But the new Serrated Blades also implies that we'll be using Eviscerate as well, which would have us maintaining a three-finisher cycle. That's where I feel the rogue experience starts to fall apart, and I start to feel like a warlock or shadow priest instead.

However, I believe the goal is to have subtlety using Eviscerate so often that Serrated Blades will allow us to keep Rupture active without actually having to waste energy or combo points on it. Serrated Blades would essentially become a parallel to Cut to the Chase, which makes sense since they're on the same tier of talent points. What I can't understand is why Blizzard would leave it to a 60% chance? Rogues hate chance. Blizzard should take the lessons they learned from 90% Improved Sap and 90% Cloak of Shadows and give us a way to refresh Rupture more reliably. Making the wrong decision when Rupture's duration is ticking low would simply be so frustrating.

Honor Among Thieves gets another shot
Subtlety rogues will be swimming in critical strike chance by the time they reach level 85. With Backstab picking up 30% crit chance from Puncturing Wounds and the sub rogue gaining 15% from Malice, Dagger Specialization, and Honor Among Thieves, and assuming a 20% base crit chance, we'll be looking at 60% crit chance on Backstab easily, while still in the first tier of Cataclysm gear. In a raid situation, they'll only be looking at 5% more critical strike chance than in Wrath, but the key is the redesigned Honor Among Thieves. Now it not only provides the great 5% crit buff to your raid, but it also works off any raid member's crits. The downside is that it was nerfed to only allow us to gain a combo point every two seconds, but with raid-wide application, it should result in us seeing one combo point every two seconds pretty regularly.

Figuring on one Backstab every 3 seconds as a sub rogue, mixed with a combo point every two seconds, and you're going to be pulling off a ton of finishers. However, even in a best-case scenario, using both Glyph of Rupture and Glyph of Backstab to prop up Rupture's duration, the chance of a Rupture falling off is several percent, between 7% and 15% based on how tight your cycle is. With the new, deeper placement of Puncturing Wounds in Assassination and the serious bloat in the lower tiers of subtlety, it's also impossible to pick up Improved Slice and Dice, making this rotation even more difficult to pull off on a regular basis.

Rupture should be like paying taxes
We're trading the unpredictability of the old Honor Among Thieves for the new gamble of trying to keep Rupture and Slice and Dice up at all times, while still getting in enough Eviscerates to make the whole thing worthwhile. Serrated Blades doesn't even need to mirror Cut to the Chase, it could instead clone Improved Expose Armor, letting a subtlety rogue put up Rupture with no cost of combo points. A spec based around bleeds simply cannot afford to let its only bleed fall off. Even feral druids' Nom Nom Nom talent gives them a 100% chance to refresh their Rip.

I hate to take it to this level, but when you really boil it down, Rupture is a just a bleed. There's nothing interesting about bleeds, in fact their entire existence is based around the idea of consistent, predictable, and boring damage. Trying to gamble with bleeds is simply a bad idea. If subtlety rotations keep looking like "spam whatever finisher you want and hope it works out," then all the mastery tweaking in the world won't bring this spec back to life.

What subtlety needs right now is an overdose of fiber to get itself regular again, and the new Serrated Blades mixed with a heavily bleed dependent tree is not going to get the job done. Otherwise we're back to where we started in Wrath, and sub rogues will bind half their keys to Backstab and the other half to Eviscerate and let a Logitech G15 macro play their character for them. I'd love for subtlety to get its own unique rotation, but it needs to be something we can nail to the wall and theorycraft. No rogue wants to cross their fingers every time he Eviscerates, hoping to the shadow gods that he gets a lucky Rupture refresh.
Are you a rogue looking to up your game? Check back every Wednesday for the latest strategies in Encrypted Text! Get ready for Icecrown Citadel with our guide for rogues, part 1 and part 2 (Plagueworks), part 3 (Crimson Halls) and part 4 (Frostwing Halls). Just hit 80 and need information? Check out our rogue lessons: Combat 101 or Mutilate 101 for all you need to know to get started.

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