Off-hand weapons should be flexible
Currently, there are five dual-wielding classes in the game. The two plate classes both want strength-based weapons, so we're not really sharing our gear with them. Enhancement shaman love their slower weapons, and so we let them soak up every Keleseth's Seducer they can carry. Hunters will obviously roll on any weapon that they can equip, so there's no issue there. Rogues are the only class that really wants a quick, agility-based off-hand. The issue is that the different rogue specs are looking for different things in their off-hands, and that causes a problem.
Subtlety is really off-hand agnostic, as long as the weapon is quick. Assassination rogues require a quick dagger to be used, and it can really be placed in either hand. A quick dagger fulfills both of these requests and makes sense, considering that both specs will be using daggers in their main hand anyway. Combat is the true cause of the problem, since the tree is really the only one that allows for a non-dagger to be used in the main hand. Combat rogues can use any main-hand weapon, as long as it's slow.
If I'm using an axe in my main hand, as I often do, I want to be using an axe in my off hand. It's just that simple. However, with Combat Potency and Deadly Poison emphasizing the importance of a quick off-hand weapon, daggers are going to yield better DPS. It's due to the fact that a quick dagger can be as fast a 1.4-speed, while the fastest axe or other weapon can only get as low as 1.5-speed. Daggers reign supreme as an off-hand weapon, and that doesn't make sense in a weapon-agnostic world.
I've heard a lot of suggestions like changing Combat Potency to a PPM mechanic or revamping Deadly Poison. That's far too drastic of a change, and the ideas are completely untested. We already know how rogues work with 1.4-speed and 1.5-speed off-hand weapons, and there's a much simpler way to fix the issue. I suggest that all off-hand weapons should be set to either a 1.4-speed or a 1.5-speed across the board. Mutilate still requires two daggers, and subtlety rogues never cared anyway. The upside is that combat rogues will be able to match like weapons together, using two swords like a blademaster or two axes like a woodchipper. Style is an important part of WoW, and even combat rogues deserve to look good while wielding their weapons.
Combat's scaling problems
While it took Blizzard several years to make Vanish finally work as intended, it looks like the developers will be fixing the combat tree's current damage problems much sooner than that. As we learned at BlizzCon, the latest beta build of Cataclysm will roughly quadruple the potency of combat's mastery bonus, Main Gauche. While you all know my take on Main Gauche's poor design, multiplying any stat by four is an easy way to make it viable. I don't know if this change will actually make it to our live build or not. With Cataclysm only a few weeks away, we should see combat rogues doing much better damage. Update: Blizzard recently released patch notes which indicate that our mastery bonus is only seeing a 60% boost, as opposed to the 300% boost we were expecting. Mastery is still our worst stat after this first round of changes.
The key to scaling well over long periods of time is stat parity. We need for each of the stats we can find on our gear to be near each other in value. It's fine if they're not all the same; in fact, it's guaranteed. We just need for them to be reasonably close, so that we're not locked into a single stat like we were with armor penetration. By boosting mastery's effectiveness, combat rogues have at least two valuable stats to look for on gear.
Combat is the macro spec
The combat rogue of Wrath didn't have much to manage. With a Slice and Dice-only rotation and lined-up cooldowns, he could maintain reasonably great DPS. Even the best efforts to maximize damage resulted in mere percentage points of increased damage. While combat rogues in Cataclysm will see a bit more complexity in the rotation via Revealing Strike, the mantra remains the same. The key to the combat spec is managing cooldowns and planning for the best long-term damage.
Let's take Bandit's Guile as an example of this point. We obviously want to execute our most powerful attacks during Bandit's Guile, as that will result in the maximum amount of damage done. Syncing up our Killing Spree with Bandit's Guile becomes important in maximizing the damage done by KS. As a side note, we can now use attacks while in a Killing Spree, so energy capping during KS should be a thing of the past. In addition, we want to sync Adrenaline Rush with other damage-boosting cooldowns. Planning our cooldown usage and syncing our timers like Bandit's Guile will become important in squeezing every last drop of DPS out of a combat build.
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.