Encrypted Text: Remembering 2011 as the year of the rogue

Every week, WoW Insider brings you Encrypted Text for assassination, combat and subtlety rogues. Chase Christian will be your guide to the world of shadows every Wednesday. Feel free to email me with any questions or article suggestions you'd like to see covered here, like how to sneak around wearing a gaudy sweater.

With 2010 fading fast, rogues apprehensively looked forward to Cataclysm and how it would shape 2011. We were the crowned kings of Icecrown Citadel, with armor penetration and attack power as our top stats and both assassination and combat battling for first place. Mutilate rogues still tied down by Hunger for Blood, and combat rogues were spamming Blade Flurry on cooldown for the attack speed increase.

Looking back, we have grown since Wrath. Each of the rogue specs has evolved and found a niche, and even subtlety can make a reasonable claim for a raid spot now. With the massive talent system revamp, the developers struggled initially to balance each spec against the others. Rogues entered into 2011 and Cataclysm with a whimper, as the loss of armor penetration and the conversion of attack power to agility was not as smooth as Blizzard would have hoped.

First Order of Business: Fix rogues

Because of combat's Vitality scaling talent and subtlety's similar Sinister Calling, these two specs were the most affected by the stat redesign in early 2011. Assassination rogues were relatively unaffected by the removal of armor penetration and agility's rebirth. Vitality saw a 25% boost (from 20% to 25%), and Sinister Calling received the same (from 25% to 30%). To give both specs a bit more viability, their combo point generators were also improved. Finally, combat's mastery bonus, Main Gauche, was redesigned from its initially flawed form, and subtlety's mastery bonus saw a huge 25% buff.

The goal of 2011's first major patch was to raise combat and subtlety DPS to the level of assassination rogues, and the above changes helped quite a bit. The issue was that patch 4.0.6 also introduced the most overpowered ability in the game today: Blade Flurry. While Blade Flurry had always been powerful, removing its cooldown and duration puts combat rogues in an awkward place. If combat is competitive for single-target DPS, then they are overpowered when there are two targets in striking distance. Combat rogues would struggle with this mechanic's implications for the rest of the year.

Our cooldowns cut down

In order to weaken the stranglehold that subtlety had on rogue PvP, Blizzard nerfed the entire tree. Smoke Bomb's duration was halved before we even had a chance to experiment with it. Preparation had yet another CD removed from its domain, as Evasion left the spell's tooltip. Shadowstep had its cooldown increased, making subtlety less mobile. Later in 2011, we'd also see Combat Readiness and Cloak of Shadows designed to share a cooldown, which made Combat Readiness completely pointless in nearly every scenario. The only boon to rogue cooldowns in 2011 was the incredibly potent redesign of Vanish, which was simply awesome.

Improving our quality of life

The second patch of 2011 didn't help or hurt our DPS but instead focused on several changes to make it more fun to play a rogue. The problem is that rogues weren't performing well at this point of the year, and the lack of damage improvements was concerning. The quality of life buffs we saw were great, but they weren't what we needed. Tricks of the Trade finally saw the range increase that it had always needed, as it's now usable from 100 yards away. Our Recuperate ability was also improved, although the spell is usually reserved to solo play and PvP.

The major change of patch 4.1 was the redesign of Stealth. While patch 4.0.6 did prevent abilities like Demoralizing Shout from breaking Stealth, patch 4.1 brought so much more than that. Stealth's base cooldown dropped to 6 seconds, and it lost its movement speed penalty. Rogues now move at full speed while Stealthed, and assassination and subtlety rogues move faster in Stealth with Nightstalker. Stealth had become more of a chore than a boon for high-level rogues, as we couldn't afford to move slowly. These Stealth changes in March made rogues more fun to play but didn't resolve the issue of our poor raid performance.

Losing on the meters

While rogues saw a plethora of buffs in early 2011, we didn't see any other changes to our damage until the middle of the year. Many rogues, including myself, were lamenting at how poorly rogues were performing in raid environments, and it didn't look like it was going to get any better. We weren't competitive on any encounter except for those where Blade Flurry could be abused.

In order to revitalize the rogue class, several buffs were scheduled for patch 4.2 in June. Vitality, which had been buffed back in January, saw a big 20% increase (from 25% to 30%), while Assassin's Resolve got the same bonus. Sanguinary Vein saw a larger 60% increase and a buff to Hemorrhage, but subtlety was still left in the dust due to additional improvements made to combat and assassination. Assassins saw Vile Poisons buffed by over 50% (from 20% to 36%), and Savage Combat saw a 50% boost. The size of these buffs is indicative of exactly how poorly rogues were performing prior to this point.

All about the oranges

Although we were buffed quite significantly going into Firelands, we were quickly overshadowed by any caster equipped with a Dragonwrath. It's true that a class wielding a legendary weapon should be stronger than one without an orange. The issue was that casters had already ruled the first half of 2011, and Dragonwrath looked to enable them to rule the second half as well. While Dragonwrath had its acquisition rate tweaked several times, the fact was that melee classes were faced with yet another raid tier of futility. In order to release all of our built-up steam, we decided to challenge the casters on our turf.

One patch changes everything

After struggling through 11 months of 2011 under the shadow of the ranged classes, melee players saw a glimmer of hope in patch 4.3's notes. In yet another tweak to attack power scaling, melee classes would be receiving an additional 10% attack power from buffs. I think that the constant changes throughout 2011 to our scaling talents like Vitality and the final buff to the attack power raid buff show that we were still feeling the effects from the stat system redesign of early 2011. Melee classes had been scaling off of attack power for several years, and removing it from the game had far-reaching implications.

As if a 10% buff to our attack power wasn't enough to put us back into competition for the top of the meters, we also learned about the Fangs of the Father. The final legendary of Cataclysm would be a rogue-exclusive, the first of its kind. All of the ranged dominance in 2011 now seemed inconsequential. The quest chain for the legendary daggers has been amazing, with the stalking and assassination of Creed being one of the highlights of my rogue's career. On top of that, our tier set turns us into Batman. Patch 4.3's November release was an early Christmas for the rogue class.

While the year wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for rogues or melee players as a whole, we can't complain too much. Rogues were always viable in raids, and our DPS was never poor enough to warrant replacing us. We're finally starting to see rogues appear near the top of the DPS meters in Dragon Soul, and many of us will be acquiring our legendary daggers in just a couple of months. Rogues are in a great place right now as a class, and we will be sneaking into 2012 with high spirits and thirsty daggers.

Sneak in every Wednesday for our Molten Front ganking guide, a deep-dive into the world of playing a subtlety rogue -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to the latest rogue gear.