Energy has come a long way
Energy hasn't always been quite as amazing as it is in today's environment. Originally, it was generated in 20 energy chunks every 2 seconds, which was incredibly clunky. You could be just 5 energy short of using Kick against a clutch enemy ability and get stuck waiting for a full 2 seconds before you'd see your next energy tick. Luckily, in Wrath, Blizzard's dev team smoothed out energy generation, and we now see 10 individual energy ticks every second. The new regeneration model helps us pull of more clutch Kicks, Blinds and Dismantles, as well as allowing us to squeeze out every last drop of DPS.
Previously, rogues didn't have a way to actively regenerate energy outside of consumables like Thistle Tea, the Renataki's trinket or combat's fabled cooldown, Adrenaline Rush. As a result, our ability rotations became incredibly stagnant, since the energy income of a level 1 rogue matched that of a level 60 rogue wearing full Bloodfang. While it may have made it easy to theorycraft rogue DPS due to only having to figure out how hard each ability would hit, it didn't provide a very engaging experience for those involved. If it weren't for the sheer strength of rogues at that point in the game, I am sure there would've been much more vocal complaining.
Passive regeneration: not enough
As our talent trees have grown in the years since the game's release, energy regeneration has been specifically baked into every rogue tree. Assassination rogues pick up extra energy from their quick crits via Focused Attacks, while combat rogues are seeing huge returns from Combat Potency. Even subtlety rogues were included in the action, with the relocated Relentless Strikes making many finishers free to use. Focused Attacks promotes quick weapons, which fits with assassination's lean towards daggers. Combat rogues are literally required to use a quick weapon, or else Combat Potency is completely wasted. The synergy between Relentless Strikes and Honor Among Thieves is the most obvious way to tell rogues that subtlety is all about finishers.
While the combat and assassination trees both have talents that let energy regeneration scale with stats like critical strike and haste, subtlety is stuck with a fixed return on investment based on the maximum number of combo points that can be generated via HaT. Cataclysm is fixing this issue by making the haste stat passively increase our energy regeneration, regardless of talents. Allowing for our energy to scale with gear means that we're able to use more abilities per minute, which means both more decisions and more interesting rotations. With enough gear, we can open up entirely new rotations, while boosting uptime on our various buffs and debuffs. Instead of being forced into rigid rotations, we actually have to monitor our own energy and make intelligent choices about what to do with it.
Front-loading: double-edged sword
Part of what makes rogues so powerful in surprise PvP encounters is that we can unleash several powerful abilities in quick succession from Stealth. In a PvE environment, once we're established and attacking the boss, our energy will very rarely climb up near 100. In fact, we want to avoid having our energy much higher than 85 points at any given time, as we run the risk of wasting energy if we allow it to cap out.
However, in PvP, where uptime on a target is incredibly variable, we often have the opportunity to save up to 120 energy in reserve to unload all at once. Because of the massive amount of special attacks we can use so quickly, Blizzard can't allow for our special attacks to hit for as much as we'd like them to. For proof, look at the massive nerf to Mutilate's damage in the middle of Wrath. It barely dented our raid DPS and was supplemented with additional PvE buffs, but it completely gutted an assassination rogue's opening sequence. This has been a problem for rogues since the stunlock was first conceived.
Active vs. passive
Mages have to cast their abilities, regardless of how much mana they have. This keeps their burst damage in check. Warriors have to build up rage to use their moves, and this keeps their burst damage in check. Rogues start with full energy, and so our specials need to be tuned very specifically to not completely overwhelm any enemy we engage. While we should be able to make a strong attack from Stealth, killing our targets before Cheap Shot ends is simply not viable in a balanced PvP environment.
Blizzard's constant nerfs to our active abilities like Mutilate have left us relying more and more on passive damage to get the job done. On a recent parse of mine, 74 percent of my damage was from passive attacks like melee damage and poisons. What the meters won't show is that I am using my energy for the primary purpose of keeping up Slice and Dice, which increases my passive damage. Assassination rogues similarly use Envenom not just for its damage, but rather for the increased number of poison procs that the buff promises. That's the rogue DPS model in Wrath: We use active abilities that boost our seemingly passive damage. Need more proof? I have three words for you: Hunger for Blood.
Combo points balance out energy
While I know that I'm working to keep my melee damage and poison procs as high as possible, it can seem to the uninitiated that we're just right-clicking the boss and going AFK. The fact is that due to the mechanics of energy, we're not allowed to have hard-hitting specials. While this paradox would normally cause serious issues for another class, rogues are able to recover by leaning on the combo point system for support. Because we still have to build up combo points to use finishers, our finishers have become our primary burst damage abilities. Envenom builds are now a staple in PvP, and I've seen some critical Eviscerates that rival some of our opponents' most powerful nukes.
Warriors are being promised a redo on rage in Cataclysm, while mages are seeing massive changes to their mana dynamics. Death knights are getting a redesigned rune system, and there are a handful of other classes seeing completely new resources introduced. And for us rogues? Just insurance that energy will continue to work as intended for all specs, that our energy-consuming active abilities will be buffed in the slower pace of Cataclysm PvP, and the knowledge that we've got the best resource system in the game. I love energy.
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.