Annotated Warlords Alpha Patch Notes

Having now digested the massive info dump Blizzard has given us some thoughts. This is going to be very long and if you’ve already used up your reading quota for the day reading Blizzards 33 pages of patch notes I won’t blame you for not going any further.

Official blog
There are a lot of interesting things that aren’t rogue related, I’m not going to get into those for the moment, this post is long enough as is.

Ability Pruning

    • Disarm Trap has been removed.
    • Rupture is no longer available to Combat Rogues.
    • Shadow Blades has been removed.

The most interesting thing about this section is how few rogue rogue abilities are being pruned. While we find out about a few more later on (expose armor and mind numbing poison to name a couple) this reflects what a lot of rogues have been saying since the ability squish was announced, rogues don’t suffer from a ton of ability bloat and don’t need a ton of things removed. The removal of rupture for combat rogues is a good change and long time coming. Rupture has over time moved in and out of the combat rotation many times but it has never seemed essential to the spec. Given the added optimization complexity from the bandit’s guile change (discussed later) I don’t have a problem with its removal. The removal of shadow blades is a bit sad however the ability was a pure macro-in for two specs and removal follows from Blizzards other design goals so I’m not too upset by the removal.

Crowd Control and Diminishing Returns Paralytic Poison has been removed and replaced by Internal Bleeding.

    • Internal Bleeding: Causes successful Kidney Shots to also apply a periodic Bleed effect for 12 seconds, with damage increasing per combo point used.

Paralytic poison was an obvious potential causality of the crowd control reductions, however this replacement seems like a waste. It’s a solid soloing and potentially 2s talent depending on damage but the problem is prey on the weak scales with group size.  For large group combat with multiple dps prey on the weak is likely to be strictly superior. I’m not sure what could compete with prey on the weak in a PvE setting but if the goal is a better T75 for raiding this talent isn’t it.

Buffs and Debuffs Weakened Armor and Physical Vulnerability were effectively redundant, both filling the role of increasing Physical damage taken by the target. So, we removed Weakened Armor and widened the availability of Physical Vulnerability a bit. The following abilities have been removed.

    • Rogue: Expose Armor

… The Cast Speed Slow was a debuff type that mattered almost exclusively to PvP, and made combat much less fun for casters in addition to encouraging the use of instant-cast spells. We decided that it was best to remove casting speed debuffs. The following abilities have been removed.

    • Rogue: Mind-numbing Poison

… As part of a push to combine the different types of Haste in the game as much as possible, we merged Spell Haste and Attack Speed into just Haste, which benefits everyone. … The following abilities now also increase magic damage taken by the target by 5% for 15 seconds.

    • Monk (Windwalker): Rising Sun Kick
    • Priest (Shadow): Mind Blast

Expose armor mechanics have seemed outdated for a while now, simply removing and further streamlining buffs is solid choice. Mind numbing never did much in PvE so removing it isn’t a huge thing to worry about. That said the whole concept of non-lethal poisons seems odd at this point with only crippling and leeching in that category.  This isn’t a showstopper but it does seem odd. The haste buff simplification changes needed to happen, the intricacies of what kind of haste helped what was excessively complex with minimal upside. With 20 mans being the only progression raid size raid debuffs aren’t likely to be a huge issue but extending the spell damage buff beyond rogues and warlocks is a nice quality of life change for other groups.

Facing Requirements Strict facing requirements can be frustrating to deal with, especially in hectic Raid combat or PvP environments. In order to ease this frustration, we decided to remove or significantly loosen the facing requirements of all attacks that required the player to be behind their target.

    • Druid: Shred no longer requires the Druid to be behind the target.
    • Rogue: Ambush no longer requires the Rogue to be behind the target.
    • Rogue (Subtlety): Backstab can now be used on either side of the target, in addition to behind the target.

This is one of the big letdowns of these notes. Ambush being usable at all angles is a great change and will certainly make subtlety much less handicapped on position limiting fights but I’m immensely confused about what backstab isn’t getting the same treatment. I’m happy for our druid brothers that shred no longer has a positional requirement but in light of that change the lack of full positional independence for subtlety rogues seems like pure stubbornness. The change to ambush combined with the change to hemorrhage (discussed later) should reduce the damage gap between positional and non-positional subtlety in which case this seems like flavor impeding gameplay which feels wrong. Reducing the damage gap will probably help mitigate the issues with positional requirements but depending on encounter design it could easily become a problem.

In our efforts to reduce cooldown stacking across the game, we chose to remove the damage increase from Tricks of the Trade. …

    • Tricks of the Trade now has no energy cost and no longer increases damage caused by the target by 15%.

We already knew about this but it’s nice to see it in here. As I’ve discussed previously the damage bonus on tricks felt problematic. I’m a bit skeptical that tricks is going to have much utility at all given the melee range limitation compared to hunter misdirection and tank threat being what it is (most threat drop abilities have been removed in as a seeming acknowledgement of this). If Blizzard had deemed rogue button bloat a larger issue I’d be concerned about tricks remaining but since rogues didn’t lose much in ability pruning I don’t see an issue with situational utility.

We decided to loosen the weapon requirements on Assassination. It’s important to note that we still intend for daggers to be the optimal choice for Assassination Rogues, but this change will help Rogues who want to try out Assassination but don’t have two daggers. …

    • Assassin’s Resolve no longer requires daggers to function.
    • Dispatch can now be used with fist weapons or one-handed swords, dealing 331% weapon damage (instead of 480%) when used with those weapons instead of a dagger.
    • Mutilate can now be used with fist weapons or one-handed swords, dealing 137% weapon damage (instead of 200%) when used with those weapons instead of a dagger.
    • Sinister Strike now deals 188% weapon damage when used with a dagger (instead of 130%).

Further clarified by Celestalon on twitter:

Intended to be ‘okay’ to use in case you are over a tier behind on the optimal weapons, but not optimal.

This seems like a step in the right direction, weapon dependence can be immensely frustrating however I’m somewhat sorry that Blizzard didn’t go further. This is a good change for players at lower levels of progression but heroic mythic raiders will still likely be stuck with playing to your weapons.

Bandit’s Guile is an interesting mechanic that is important to Combat gameplay, but wasn’t working out quite as well as we think that it could. In particular, there’s basically no way to adjust when you’re going to be in Deep Insight, other than stopping your rotation (and thus wasting energy, combo points, temporary effects, cooldown time, etc.). …

    • Revealing Strike now deals 20% more damage, but no longer advances Bandit’s Guile.

Those of you who read my previous wishlisting for warlords post will recognize this idea because it is exactly “Somewhat Less Sinister Strike.” I’m not taking credit for the idea, it seems like a reasonably obvious extension of the bandit’s guile concept that Blizzard probably came up with before I posted but I’m happy to see it in. This will hopefully finally help bandit’s guile help fulfill the promise of being something rogues can optimize with not just around.

Among some other changes to Rogue AoE damage, we wanted to make sure that Fan of Knives benefitted from Seal Fate.

    • Seal Fate now also grants a combo point for area attacks that critically strike the Rogue’s primary target.

Small change for assassination, given the increased emphasis on AoE as part of single target rotation for many classes and specs will certainly make fan of knives weaving fit better into the rotation.

Honor Among Thieves is an extremely powerful ability, but has the downside that it adds significant disparity between character power while soloing and while in a group. We made this change to bring up the soloing Subtlety Rogue, without having a significant impact on their performance while in a group.

    • Honor Among Thieves can now also be triggered by critical hits from the Rogue’s melee Auto Attacks.

The notes pretty much sum things up. This will also be a small buff to rogues in small scale arena. Good quality of life change.

A couple of Rogue abilities do periodic damage, but don’t have an intended alternative if that periodic is already on the target. We made these abilities roll remaining damage from their previous effect into the new effect, so that it’s still ideal to use them again in these cases.

    • Crimson Tempest’s periodic damage now has rolling periodic behavior, meaning that remaining damage from the previous application is added into the newly-applied periodic-damage effect.
    • Hemorrhage’s periodic damage now has rolling periodic behavior, meaning that remaining damage from the previous application is added into the newly-applied periodic-damage effect.

First a brief explanation of how this works because this is a new mechanic for rogues. The goal of a rolling periodic dot is the ratio of direct and dot damage is fixed regardless of the refresh interval, you lose no damage from refreshing the dot early. As an example if you have a dot that does 100 damage per tick with 10 ticks in the current behavior refreshing that dot with 2 ticks remaining would be a loss of 200 damage. Under rolling periodic behavior if you clipped the last two ticks they would be rolled into the new dot so your new dot tick would do 120 damage per tick (100+[200/10]), The crimson tempest change combined with some of the new crimson tempest related perks will help make crimson tempest a much better ability. Crimson tempest has suffered from lack of purpose all expansion and this will help immensely. Hemorrhage on the other hand seems like an ability designed to solve other mechanical problems. Since we haven’t seen anything about sanguinary veins it’s probably safe to assume that it is remaining as a mechanic. This means hemorrhage basically exists to be used when you can’t backstab and to apply a bleed on target swapping. Neither of these mechanics really need to exist beyond keeping hemorrhage relevant.

Subterfuge has proved too powerful, and frustrating to play against in PvP, so we decided to reduce its defensive capabilities, while preserving its offensive power. We changed the Subterfuge period to allow the use of stealth abilities without actually stealthing you, similar to Shadow Dance.

    • Subterfuge now allows you to use abilities that require stealth for 3 sec after leaving Stealth, instead of actually staying stealthed for 3 sec.

This is mostly a PvP change but that this is the direction Blizzard is going with the talent seems to suggest that Blizzard doesn’t have a problem with vanish behaving as a dps cooldown, a mechanic that adds very little to combat or assassination.

Perks
For perks, I’m going to skip the simple damage increasers unless they indicate a major change. Assassination:

    • Improved Slice and Dice – Slice and Dice is now always passively active.

This perk was announced at Blizzcon so we all knew it was coming. Interestingly it appears Blizzard is trying to cut down on the generic maintenance buffs. Inquisition is being removed and feral druids can talent into a passive savage roar. I’m not saying slice and dice is a bad mechanic, I think it does have a place for combat and subtlety but for assassination it’s already effectively passive.

    • Enhanced Vendetta – After activating Vendetta, your next Mutilate, Dispatch, Envenom, or Ambush has 100% increased chance to be a critical strike.

With the removal of shadow blades assassination clearly needs a more interesting vendetta but this isn’t it. This seems like a concession to the people who miss cold blood and just like cold blood this is a minor effect at best. I hope this perk becomes something to make vendetta more interesting because this passive absolutely doesn’t cut it.

    • Enhanced Poisons – Fan of Knives will always apply your poisons to the targets hit.
    • Enhanced Crimson Tempest – Crimson Tempest also increases the damage targets take from your poisons by 30% for 1 sec plus 1 sec per combo point.

This suggests that Blizzard would like to move assassination away from the rupture multi-dotting style we’ve been using all expansion. Rupture multi-dotting was likely an unintended strategy and it wasn’t particularly well supported but it was an interesting mechanic that I’m sad to see go. The other interesting aspect of this change is it seems intended to increase AoE damage to make assassination more competitive with combat in AoE situations.

    • Empowered Envenom – While Envenom is active, you deal 20% more damage with Mutilate and Dispatch.
    • Enhanced Envenom – Envenom grants an additional 15% to your chance to apply poisons.

The battle cry of the make assassination more difficult movement all expansion has been “make envenom more meaningful” and it seems Blizzard agrees. These changes are obvious ways to do that and should add to the assassination skill cap in interesting ways.  I am somewhat worried these changes don’t go far enough establishing for rewarding skill for assassination, especially compared to the complex optimization problem of combat. Combat:

    • Empowered Bandit’s Guile – Bandit’s Guile grants an additional 20% damage increase while in Deep Insight.

When combined with the other bandit’s guile change this should substantially increase the combat skill cap and make lining up deep insight with cooldowns a primary goal. Potentially a very interesting perk.

    • Instant Poison – Replaces your Deadly Poison with Instant Poison. Instant Poison – Coats your weapons with a Lethal Poison that lasts for 1 hour. Each strike has a 30% chance of instantly poisoning the enemy for XXXX Nature damage.

This perk isn’t that interesting except for that it represents, a return to wrath style no-dot combat. During wrath one of combat’s niches was effectively zero target swapping time and this returns that niche to combat.

    • Enhanced Adrenaline Rush – While Adrenaline Rush is active, the global cooldown on Sinister Strike, Revealing Strike, Eviscerate, Slice and Dice, and Rupture is reduced by an additional 0.3 sec.

BLIZZARD WAT U DOIN?
BLIZZARD STAHP!
This is probably the most confusing rogue passive. Celestalon confirmed on twitter that this is in addition to the current 0.2 second GCD reduction which makes this perk a return to the combat T15 4pc failed experiment.  This perk seems to occupy the odd space of either being useless or really problematic.  Rogues were able to saturate the 0.5 second GCD with T15 4pc due to the very power set bonus cost reduction, something that seems unlikely to happen again.  Combat T15 4pc was a problem, it made the spec borderline unplayable for players with even moderately low latency and even some players who enjoy the fast pace of combat felt it was overly spammy. Regardless of the exact mechanics this change indicates that Blizzard doesn’t consider the vast shifts in energy regeneration between adrenaline rush and a normal rotation to be a problem despite the problems it has caused for combat this expansion.

    • Enhanced Fan of Knives – Reduces the Energy cost of Fan of Knives by 10.
    • Empowered Crimson Tempest – Crimson Tempest no longer deals any periodic damage, and instead deals 240% increased initial damage.

Combat arguably has the weakest AoE perks of the three rogue specs which seems appropriate given blade flurry. I worry somewhat that either blade flurry or fan of knives/crimson tempest will be left behind in combat AoE rotations. but if Blizzard can define a niche for both it could be interesting design.   Without fan of knives advancing bandit’s guile these perks could create an awkward AoE rotation or lead to fan of knives being left behind. Subtlety:

    • Enhanced Vanish – Reduces the cooldown on Vanish by 30 sec.

This change suggests that Blizzard likes vanish as a dps cooldown for subtlety. For subtlety this does seem appropriate although it does create an odd utility situation if isn’t a dps cooldown for the other specs.

    • Enhanced Shadow Dance- Increases the duration of Shadow Dance by 2 sec.

Combined with the change above I worry that this may result in a baseline find weakness uptime that seems very high. With 13 seconds of stealth per 90 seconds and 20 seconds of stealth per minute a rogue will be approaching 50% find weakness uptime over a 90 second window before cooldown reduction is factored in. Given this high starting uptime it seems plausible that subtlety could hit a problematic readiness soft cap at high gear levels.

    • Empowered Fan of Knives – Fan of Knives now generates a combo point for each target that it hits.

So many combo points. Celetalon has already confirmed on twitter that this is very much an experiment and if the combo point generation is too high. It is an interesting idea in concept and when combined with the crimson tempest change it potentially makes subtlety very powerful in a sustained AoE setting. Given the backloaded nature of crimson tempest for subtlety this isn’t particularly strong in a burst AoE setting. On the other hand this allows some potentially very powerful cheesing from subtlety on multi-target encounters. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, multi-dotting casters have been doing this forever but it does open up some interesting encounter cheesing opportunities. One potential problem with this change is the raw number of combo points may make anticipation even more powerful than it already is.

    • Enhanced Premeditation – Premeditation is no longer an active ability. Instead your Garrote and Ambush always generate 2 additional combo points when used from Stealth. This affect does not apply while Shadow Dance is active.

I’ve seen a couple people express annoyance about the removal of premeditation as an active ability but I don’t have a real problem with it. Macroing premeditation in with openers wasn’t a significant dps loss with anticipation so this seems to follow from Blizzard’s remove macroed abilities philosophy.

Level 100 Talents

    • Venom Zest – Increases your maximum energy by 15. Increases your energy regeneration rate by 5% for every enemy you have poisoned, up to 3.

Lemon Zest is arguably a pretty boring talent but at the same time it seems like a solid talent. It creates a useful sustained AoE dps niche and synergizes well with the assassination and subtlety AoE toolkits. It is a bit less clear for combat, Celestalon suggested on twitter that blade flurry may be changed to apply poisons which would make Lemon Zest synergize well with the combat AoE rotation as well, if not the lower combat poison proc rate and lack of single target incentive to use fan of knives could make this a frustrating mechanic.

    • Shadow Reflection – Summon a shadow of yourself on the target that will watch you and memorize your offensive ability usage for the next 8 sec. After this time, it will mimic the memorized abilities on its target over the next 8 sec. 20 yd range, Instant, 2 min cooldown.

There are a number of people who think this is an awesome talent, I remain skeptical. I see a couple problems, first it’s a burst cooldown with a long burst window, 16 seconds for full benefit. On fights like heroic siegecrafter it could be very powerful but overall I’m skeptical that a 16 second burst window is desirable on many burst centric fights. Second while many people talk up the control aspects the 8 second delay may make this very hard to use appropriately, not just dependent on player skill but also raid coordination. Finally I see this a potentially imbalanced talent between specs, whereas Lemon Zest potentially has a place in all three specs kits Shadow Reflection doesn’t appear to fit well with assassination. A more complete assessment will probably have to wait for beta, the interaction between buffs, debuffs and the reflection is something that will have to be heavily tested and could greatly impact the value of the talent.

    • Death from Above – Finishing move that consumes combo points on the target to empower your weapons with shadow energy and perform a devastating two-part attack. You whirl around, dealing up to XXXX damage to all enemies within 8 yds, then leap into the air and slice into your target on the way back down, dealing up to an additional 500% weapon damage (up to 724% if a dagger is equipped). Damage based on combo points consumed. 50 Energy, 15 yd range, Instant, 20 sec cooldown, Requires One-Handed Melee Weapon.

This talent just feels out of place, a high damage, high energy cost finisher with a cooldown goes against a whole bunch of rogue design trends. This isn’t to say it’s a bad ability but it doesn’t fit that well. A problem I see with this talent is if it is a single target dps increase to use death from above then it increases rogue reliance on anticipation since pooling combo points and energy just as it is coming off cd will be important. Blizzard has addressed one of my previous concerns that this talent will overshadow crimson tempest so I’m not as skeptical as I have been.

One More Thing

Oh, hah, that’s a big oversight, my bad. Yes, Combo Points are ‘on the Rogue’ now. Could revert based on feedback, but trying.

This apparently didn’t make it into the notes (in a later tweet Celestalon confirmed redirect is also gone) and to many this is a big deal. As I’ve said previously I don’t see the combo points on target as a huge deal given the 5.4 glyph of redirect but this change has a special importance to many rogues.

Whats Missing? There a number of things we didn’t find out about tonight.

  1. The raid cooldown arms race. The changes as listed remove raid cooldowns from tank specs but say nothing about removing them from dps. This is a huge open question that has a major influence on class balance. It isn’t directly rogue related but it is probably the biggest open question after tonight.  Celestalon noted on twitter there are changes on this that didn’t make this set of notes.
  2. Talents and glyphs. Some of the class changes talked about substantial talent changes, mages in particular however no rogue talent changes were announced. While the rogue talent grid is much improved since the start of MoP it still has a few glaring issues that I hope to see addressed. The spec specific talents Blizzard used extensively with other pure dps would a wonderful way to further define rogue specs.

So Where do We Stand? I wrote my final rogue wishlist I did it with the express purpose to evaluate changes against a defined standard, so lets do that. Somewhat arbitrarily I’m giving 2 points for a good solution, 1 point for a passable solution and zero points for no solution. Class Mechanics:

  1. Fix Tricks-1. The change is a step in the right direction but tricks as a pure misdirect it has limited utility.
  2. Vanish as a dps cooldown-0. No official word either way yet but subterfuge indicates Blizzard doesn’t see this as a problem.
  3. Expose armor is outdated-2. Removal of redundant debuffs is a fine solution
  4. Combo points on the rogue-2. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

Talents and Glyphs:

  1. Anticaitption is too desirable-0. If anything several changes were a step in the wrong direction.
  2. Raiding options for T30 and T75-0. Nothing on talents yet.
  3. Dead talents-0. Nothing on talents yet.
  4. DPS increasing glyphs-0. Nothing on glyphs yet.

Assassination:

  1. Add complexity-2. There are probably more creative solutions then what Blizzard did but these changes should do the job very well.
  2. More interesting vendetta-0. Adding coldblood to vendetta doesn’t count.

Combat:

  1. Combat cooldown stacking and energy regeneration-0. I’d like to give negative points here because 0.5 second GCD adrenaline rush is a step in the wrong direction.
  2. More interesting bandit’s guile-2. I’d like to give 3 points here because the revealing strike solution is a great solution.

Subtlety:

  1. Positional Requirements-1. I’m loathe to give any points here but the changes are clearly a step in the right direction even if backstab retaining some positional requirements seems unnecessary.
  2. Stronger and more interesting AoE-2. Blizzard has done a good job with AoE rotation perks in general, not just for subtlety.

Overall that adds up to 12 points out of a possible 28 on my entirely arbitrary point system. Some of these are for lack of information so I expect things to get better as we get more information in the coming weeks. Overall I feel these changes are a strong start, there are a couple problematic points, 0.5 second GCD adrenaline rush, subtlety positional requirements and boring vendetta in particular and a couple more potentially worrying issues but that’s what beta is for. Better spec distinction, new skill differentiators and some nice quality of life changes, onward to beta.

Rogue Warlords Wishlist

At the end of every expansion cycle there is invariably some discussion about which class did best in this most recent set of changes. The big problem with these discussions is everyone wants to play the aggrieved party and discount what they got and emphasize what they didn’t. This isn’t to say that most patch cycles are even for everyone, most patches have winners and losers but examining things after the fact often leaves important information out.

The goal of this post is to define a set of rogue changes in general terms that I would like to see in Warlords. I don’t expect to get everything on the list below, that would be incredibly optimistic nor am I entirely sure what would constitute a good beta for rogues but I think this is useful exercise. Additionally having potential areas for improvement spelled out in advance should be useful to refer back to as beta progresses. These lists are in a rough order of importance and in general from a progression raider perspective.  Unlike my other wishlisting posts this post doesn’t propose much in the way of solutions simply areas that I would to see addressed.

Class Mechanics:

  1. Fix Tricks. I’ve talked about the problem with tricks at length previously, to briefly summarize, tricks is a purely mechanical button press that doesn’t add complexity to the class and provides limited at best utility.
  2. Vanish should not be a dps cooldown. For combat and assassination vanish is a relatively uninteresting dps cooldown, a free ability every 2 minutes doesn’t add a lot of complexity on when to use nor is it particularly powerful. For subtlety vanish nicely fits into the find weakness toolkit and does add some interesting complexity. If vanish is going to remain a relatively dps cooldown for subtlety however subtlety rogues may need a spec specific threat drop.
  3. Expose Armor’s current implementation for rogues (and to a lesser extent warriors) feels outdated. The changes to the armor debuff allowing everyone to share in the buff upkeep were a step in the right direction but the cost difference between rogues and dps warriors vs druids is substantial and seems out of place compared to most other debuffs. At the very least the current functionality of the expose armor glyph should be baselined and perhaps a passive upkeep glyph like the warrior glyph of colossus smash should be added in its place.
  4. Combo points on the rogue. Unlike many other rogues I don’t see this as a high priority change, the 5.4 glyph of redirect solves most of the problems that combo points on the rogue would solve however I certainly wouldn’t be against this change.

Talents and Glyphs:

  1. Anticipation is too desirable. Haileaus made a very nice post about anticipation yesterday which is nicely describes the issue. I don’t agree with his proposed solutions but his description of the problem is very good. Briefly the problem is, anticipation is in practice pretty comparable to marked for death in raw dps yet it is rarely taken. Anticipation, in addition to being a dps increase is powerful quality of life talent and adds a number of interesting mechanics to rogue PvE.
  2. Add a PvE option to T30 and T75. It’s pretty clear at this point that Blizzard doesn’t have a problem with talents that are situational however rogue T30 and T75 go beyond that. If a raiding rogue didn’t talent T30 or T75 at all there would be few fights this expansion where the absence was noticeable. T30 or T75 don’t need to offer a strong choice for every fight but an option that is more noticeable than the current options would be nice.
  3. Fix the dead talents. Each talent tier has a dead talent which doesn’t see a lot of use in either PvE or PvP. Some of these talents are a good idea but need changes to be more competitive, others should probably just be replaced.
    1. Nightstalker- Solid leveling talent, simply removing the dps benefit of T15 and make the tier entirely utility focused would make nightstalker more desirable.
    2. Deadly Throw- Minimal use in any aspect of the game, probably needs to be replaced.
    3. Leeching Poison- Solid leveling talent and situational PvE talent, increasing the power of the talent and removing some of its limitations (allow it to proc off all damage) would make it more competitive.
    4. Cloak and Dagger- Can’t really compete with the other options on the tier and unclear how to fix. Might make a good T15 talent since it is stealth related and would be useful for leveling, an improved sprint talent of some sort would make a strong replacement.
    5. Dirty Tricks- Simply not competitive with the other options on the tier and unclear how to make it more competitive, CC energy costs are low enough to rarely be limiting.
    6. Shuriken Toss- Doesn’t offer much for serious play and since a level 90 talent of limited use for leveling. Unclear if a limited ranged toolkit is important enough to have 2 of 21 talents devoted to it.
  4. DPS increasing glyphs. For subtlety needing to glyph to have reasonable target swapping capabilities seems unnecessarily punitive. For assassination the vendetta glyph is a boring dps increase that doesn’t add much to the class.

Assassination:

  1. Add rotational complexity. Assassination has one of the easiest rotations in the game, and unlike a number of other rotations that provide areas for optimization, assassination provides distressingly few.
  2. Make vendetta more interesting. Vendetta is a boring cooldown that doesn’t add much to the assassination kit other than simply being a cooldown. A more interesting cooldown that changes the rotation in some way like adrenaline rush for combat or shadow dance for subtlety would be an improvement. Additionally having vendetta tied to a single target for the full 20-30 second duration seems outdated in today’s raid environment.

Combat:

  1. Restless Blades and Adrenaline Rush+Shadow Blades. The combination of these 3 abilities creates a number of problems for combat as a spec, feast or famine energy regen and limited optimization potential in particular. A change to reduce the power of one or both of these mechanics is very important to avoid some of the issues we ran into with combat this expansion.
  2. Bandit’s Guile is a boring mechanic. Bandit’s Guile is a frustrating mechanic, completely uncontrollable and with a non-trivial impact on combat dps. As combat you don’t really interact with bandit’s guile in any way, you are happy if it lines up with what you are trying to do and not so happy if it doesn’t but the mechanic adds very little decision making to the spec. A change to increase the interactivity of the mechanic would make combat a more interesting spec.

Subtlety:

  1. Remove positional requirements. Positional requirements are a liability without any sort of counterbalancing bonus in today’s raiding environment and should be removed. Blizzard has already announced that positional requirements will be going away but leaving it off the list because they announced it well in advance of the big info dump would be fair.
  2. Stronger and more interesting AoE rotation. Obviously all specs should not have the same strengths and weaknesses, subtlety doesn’t need an AoE toolkit as strong as combat’s however its current AoE is far too weak. This issue could be solved by simply buffing fan of knives and crimson tempest but this wouldn’t solve the other problem with subtlety AoE. The subtlety AoE rotation seems oddly disconnected from the single target rotation, whereas both combat and assassination can use their single target toolkit to support AoE and vice versa subtlety’s rotation doesn’t have a lot in common.

That about covers it, there are minor mechanical tweaks here and there that fall into the category of “would be nice” but they aren’t particularly big changes and may be fixed by other mechanical changes. Also no talking about button bloat because other than saying “please don’t cut X” or “please cut Y” there isn’t a lot to say until we have more information.  Depending on how much information we get in the first wave of info dumps I may continue the more solutions focused Wishlisting Posts. If we do get a large amount of information in this first info dump then I plan to jump right in and start talking about the WoD changes.

Wishlisting for Warlords: Somewhat Less Sinister Strike

In a discussion on twitter last week I made my standard comment about bandit’s guile, it has the potential to be an interesting mechanic but it isn’t right now. I’ve been somewhat more positive on bandit’s guile than most in the rogue community since Blizzard added it in Cataclysm because I see it as a mechanic that could be a solid foundation for the spec. To begin lets identify the two obstacles preventing bandit’s guile from being an interesting mechanic.

  1. Bandit’s Guile is uncontrollable. Blizzard has said many times that they link RNG in rotations, how a player handles RNG distinguishes a skilled player from a less skilled player, bandit’s guile takes that too far. There is nothing to handle or react to with bandit’s guile, it simply moves through its cycle as you move through your rotation and you hope things line up. Anyone who has played combat is familiar with this type of scenario, you have 1 or 2 sinister strikes left before red insight and a boss burn phase is starting in ~20 seconds. Nothing, short of not hitting abilities and letting your energy cap is going to let you have red insight for that burn phase. This isn’t an example of RNG enhancing a rotation by letting the player wrangle it but rather the player passively accepting RNG as their lot and praying it comes up better next time.
  2. Restless Blades/Adrenaline Rush+Shadow Blades smothers any potential for bandit’s guile to be interesting. Since the introduction of these mechanics is cataclysm people have noted the inherent conflict. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, conflicting mechanics can lead to interesting choices but when one mechanic is a very powerful pair of cooldowns and the other mechanic is basically uncontrollable the conflict doesn’t last very long.

In this post I am not going to address point (2), combat’s cooldowns are a complex issue and fixing bandit’s guile can be decoupled. As Ninjablaze pointed out on twitter, use cooldown during red insight is hardly an interesting interaction. Both sets of combat mechanic’s need rethinking, in this post I focus only on bandit’s guile.

Lets begin with a simple, mostly uncontroversial statement, revealing strike is a boring ability, a hit this button every 24 seconds maintenance buff that is functional if not particularly inspired (a phrase which describes most of rogue PvE design). I propose we replace revealing strike with what Rfeann jokingly christened on twitter “Somewhat Less Sinister Strike” (SLSS). The idea of SLSS is simple, it has the same energy cost as regular sinister strike, generates the same number of combo points, does more damage than sinister strike, lets say 20-30% more and it does not advance insight.

Lets consider the example in (1) above, 1 or 2 sinister strikes from deep insight, burn phase coming up in ~20 seconds. The use case for SLSS here is obvious, you can use SLSS until you are just about to go into the burn phase and then use an SS to push you into red insight at exactly the right time. While this represents a simple use case it also has all the qualities that a good rotation should. It allows a skilled player who knows the encounter timing to optimize their damage for the encounter while simultaneously leaving a relatively simple priority system for newer players. The interaction with cooldowns is also reasonably straightforward. Since SLSS has the same combo points per energy as sinister strike using It doesn’t delay cooldown cycling and again it becomes about lining up high insight phases with cooldowns. Also to emphasize what I said earlier SLSS works whether or not restless blades is changed.

One objection I saw when I proposed this in the abstract on twitter was that this wouldn’t add a lot of rotational complexity. While its certainly true that on a patchwork style fight the theorycrafting community will work out optimal rotations based on how much time to spend in each insight phase per insight cycle most rotations are reasonably simple on patchwork and the vast majority of fights are not patchwork. One of the qualities that distinguishes skilled players is doing high dps on non-patchwork fights, knowing how to use the fights timing’s to your advantages. To utilize SLSS optimally requires the player to think ahead a full insight cycle, approximately 30 to 40 seconds. That is intuitively a somewhat challenging task given how many relevant raid mechanics there may be within that cycle. Yes, on progression those timings would be learned but that happens with every hard fight, ask anyone who has recently finished heroic Garrosh progression to map out the fight and most of them could do it in their sleep.

As with the other wishlist posts this idea is rough and would need testing before anyone could know if it would be a fun change. The damage of SLSS would need to be carefully balanced so it was worth using more often than just during red insight but that is the kind of numbers tuning that Blizzard has tended to be pretty good at handling this expansion. Clearly SLSS isn’t the only change combat needs, restless blades and combat cooldowns need to be discussed but this change would help liven up the combat rotation and help bandit’s guile finally fulfill the promise it has held since its creation.

Homogeneity and Flex

Reading through the comments on a recent WoWInsider Encrypted Text article I saw a similar sentiment expressed by a lot of players, “Rogues are just generic mDPS.” This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this sentiment, it pops up quite often on various forum posts but this time I saw it I started thinking about why this sentiment is so common when in my experience it is simply not true. The answer I believe is an issue of level of play, the exact things that have opened up raiding so well to casual players have resulted in this sense of homogeneity. Before I go further I quick note on the use of the word “casual,” I’m not a fan of the word in general, it has too many definitions to be broadly meaningful, in this post I am using it as a convenient shorthand for flex, normal and lower progression heroic raiders who do not min/max their raid comp.

“Bring the Player not the Class” was the watchword of Wrath of the Lich King and almost every mention of class balance brought up the ugly acronym “BtPNtC”. Blizzard mentions BtPNtC much less now, primarily because it worked so well. While I would be a fool to claim that class balance today is perfect, the degree that classes are balanced to today is incredible even from the perspective of late Wrath. There will be misses occasionally (Hello Destruction Warlocks) and questions about how BtPNtC applies to high-end heroic progression but overall Blizzard succeeded. Left unsaid in many of the discussions of BtPNtC is how it enabled the other major Wrath philosophy change, casual raiding.

The link between the two is obvious in hindsight, casual raiding, pug raiding and the new hotness of flex raiding basically require raid comps to flexible where one a melee dps is a melee dps and a healer is a healer. To be sure certain dps may be better for one encounter or another but the encounter is balanced such that groups don’t need to care about those differences. Lets consider flex style raiding because come Warlords flexible raiding is going to be what most people experience. Flex is built around a simple idea, the raid must go on, if someone can’t get online, the raid must go on, if someone has to leave early, the raid must go on. It isn’t perfect, a tank leaving is still a problem but flexible raiding loosens up comp restrictions about as far as they can go while still preserving the basic concepts of raiding and the trinity.

It should be clear why BtPNtC is essential to flex, BtPNtC allows raid leaders to think of people in terms of their role, with skill and gear being deciding factors about whether or not to bring someone rather than having to think about their classes. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say BtPNtC at a high level turns players into roles rather than classes. This brings us full circle, the reason many rogues feel like generic melee dps is self-apparent, the design of raiding today requires it. The question casual players need to ask themselves is not “Would you like less homogeneity?” but rather “Would you be willing to give up flex raiding in exchange for reducing homogeneity?”

I try to end my posts on a positive note, if I identify a problem I like to at least point in the direction of a solution, here I have nothing. The conflict between casual/flexible raiding and class diversity is fundamental and in many ways built into the underlying design philosophies Blizzard has been pushing since Wrath with great success. When I first started thinking about this I called it “Blizzard short-changing casual raiders” but I’m not sure that assessment is accurate. Blizzard looked at this seemingly intractable conflict and deemed access to raiding more important than class diversity and I suspect a large portion of casual raiders would agree.

Wishlisting for Warlords: Tricks of the Trade

A couple weeks ago Haileaus made a nice post over at his new rogue blog about why Tricks of the Trade is a failed ability. Tricks has been a pet issue of mine for a while now so I want to emphasize Hail’s points in a few places. If you want to read my full anti-tricks argument it is still on the forums.

Tricks is a flat out boring ability, pretty much every raiding rogue has a set of macros for frequent tricks targets (other rogues, tanks, high dps) and then a focus macro for uncommon targets. Every 30 seconds you hit that button, there is no interaction there, it is hit this button on cooldown to not lose damage. With threat what it is using tricks on the tank, even on the pull, is a waste so target selection, using it on a target with a good threat drop, isn’t relevant anymore.

Beyond that tricks suffers from a damage and utility dual use. Blizzard correctly recognized long ago that having an ability that did damage and had important utility was asking for trouble because players will always feel penalized if they have to use that ability for utility and since then Blizzard has been attempting to remove dual use damage and utility abilities. Tricks is in theory an awesome ability for when things go badly but since I’m using it on cooldown for dps it is almost certainly not up.

To finish this discussion of why the tricks damage buff should go look at this post by the great rogue theorycrafter Aldriana from more than two years ago during cataclysm which discusses again why tricks and more broadly tricks based set bonuses should be reevaluated.

Now that I have hopefully convinced you that the Tricks of the Trade damage buff should be removed the question becomes, now what? A few ideas.

1) Remove Tricks of the Trade. Threat is basically irrelevant in WoW today, with 500% threat modifiers and big AoE damage abilities like keg smash its generally safe to assume that if an add is in range of the tank, the tank has threat on it. Unlike hunter misdirects which can occasionally be useful rogues as a melee class generally can’t help pick up new adds that the tanks can’t reach themselves. Tricks is useful in random heroics with tanks you outgear by 50+ ilevels but that seems like a very specific use case to keep an ability around. If Blizzard is looking to clean up ability bloat tricks would be a good place to start.

2) Make Tricks an offensive raid cooldown. I don’t like this idea because I feel offensive raid cooldowns undermine class balance at a very fundamental level. Most class or spec specific raid utility is at least in some form situational, death grip for instance while very powerful on many encounters is sometimes not useful. Offensive raid cooldowns do not have a fight where they are unneeded, more dps helps on all fights. To preempt some criticism I freely admit that defensive raid cooldowns while often limited in some ways are similarly too widely usable.

The common response to this is, Blizzard already has a perfectly serviceable solution to the problem, sated style debuffs. My favorite variant of sated style debuff was put forth by Shadowboy on twitter. Change all offensive raid cds (Skull Banner, Stormlash Totem, now Tricks of the Trade) to provide the same with buff and normalize the cooldowns. These raid cooldowns share a shorter sated style buff to give this offensive raid cooldown a different character than Bloodlust et al. Whether Blizzard makes tricks an offensive raid cooldown or not I’d like to see them go to this design for skull banner and stormlash totem.

3) Make Tricks an external personal cooldown. One of the more interesting ability trends we’ve seen in MoP is the addition of external personal cooldowns, these have always existed in tank external cooldowns such as pain suppression but MoP has brought a number of more varied personal external cooldowns, monk’s Tiger Lust, priest’s feathers and in a slightly different vein symbiosis. This design has a number of useful features, it loosens comp restrictions by allowing more people to fill a given role and it creates some interesting comp choices by allowing one player to cover for another’s weaknesses. For these reasons personal external cooldowns are something I hope Blizzard does more with in WoD, possibly as a replacement for the defensive raid cooldowns Blizzard has been handing out like candy for the past two expansions.

Tricks of the Trade could make a very interesting personal external raid cooldown. One potential idea that I posted on twitter last week:
Tricks of the Trade
2 Minute Cooldown
When Tricks of the Trade is cast on a friendly target the next time the rogue uses Feint, Cloak of Shadows or Sprint the friendly target receives a weakened version of that ability instead of the rogue.
Feint- Reduces AoE damage by 30% for 5 seconds
Cloak of Shadows- Reduces magic damage by 40% for 6 seconds
Sprint- Increases movement speed by 70% for 4 seconds

The basic idea is the rogue can trade some personal utility for increasing the utility of a raid member. A number of people on twitter suggested this idea might be overpowered, looking at these three abilities I don’t think any of them are that overpowered, cloak of shadows and feint are very specific damage reductions that will probably be situationally powerful but probably not generally overpowered at least compared to other raid cooldowns with 30% general damage reduction. If they are overpowered the cooldown of tricks could be increased of the damage reduction of the abilities could be decreased, the numbers here are ballpark attempts but the general mechanic is the real idea I want to get across.

Another complaint I saw on twitter was people don’t like having to trade personal utility for raid utility both from a thematic and gameplay perspective. I don’t understand this complaint from either perspective, thematically tag team or synergistic ability usage is a hallmark of many genre fiction. Beyond that while the idea of a rogue as a thief or assassin who doesn’t play well with others is one part of the rogue archetype it is by no means the only rogue archetype. From a gameplay perspective raiding already involves trading personal utility for raid utility, if you raid asks you to use cloak to soak a specific mechanic you cannot use it when you need it for a defensive cooldown. This idea of tricks simply allows more potential uses for raid utility. You are sacrificing a use of one of your abilities for someone else but that kind of coordination and team play seems like something that should be encouraged by mechanics in a team based game like raiding or pvp.

Tricks doesn’t really fit in WoW today, 500% threat multipliers and high threat abilities like keg toss have rendered threat transfers basically pointless and the simple on cooldown damage buff is hardly compelling gameplay. Tricks needs to be reevaluated to make it fit in the modern raiding game or removed in the interests of button bloat. I can’t say which option is better, it depends heavily on Blizzard’s class design goals for WoD but something needs to be done.

Wishlisting for Warlords: Injection

One of the big questions rogues were asking about Blizzcon (full thoughts on all the annoucements this weekend) last weekend was, when will the big rogue revamp happen? Listening to the panels I think a big revamp is unlikely however Blizzard did suggest the direction they want to go. The level 91 through 100 passives offer a place to add additional game play mechanics without adding too much to button bloat. This somewhat changes a lot of the wishlisting people have been doing about what WoD rogues will look like. We probably aren’t getting new resource systems or a ton of new abilities rather we will probably get a number of passives, some fun, some boring. In this post I propose an idea for an assassination passive that would add some, although not enough, much needed complexity to the spec.

The big myth of assassination dps is envenom matters. People like to talk about how assassination is all about maximizing the envenom buff when in reality it is minimal at best. Consider 3 players, one player who never clips the envenom buff, one who wastes on average 25% of the envenom buff and one player who wastes about 50% of the envenom buff. It should be noted that wasting 50% of the envenom buff is a huge amount and probably not something that a player could do if they wanted most of the time, 25% is a bit more reasonable but still somewhat unlikely. The difference between 100% and 75% of maximum envenom utilization is about 1.2% dps and between 100% and 50% is about 2.3%. That is more than zero but it’s effectively a rounding error. At realistic levels of envenom utilization (~85%) the difference in dps is less than 0.7%. Note these are not uptimes but rather uptime utilization, if a player can achieve 80% envenom uptime playing optimally then 50% utilization corresponds to 40% envenom uptime.

That said envenom is at least in theory an interesting mechanic, the idea of having the filler finisher not be spammable is a nice take on a combo point class and probably will be the basis for whatever changes Blizzard makes to assassination. The simple solution to adding complexity to assassination is to make the envenom buff more meaningful, make it buff poison damage as well as increasing application rate or add an additional effect to the envenom buff to make it more important. These changes are immediately appealing partially for their simplicity, I championed them for some time but considering them further they aren’t really enough. The problem is envenom buff utilization doesn’t really scale with skill, once you know how to not clip the envenom buff you are done. More broadly simply not clipping the buff seems like a basic prerequisite to playing the class much like keeping up SnD for combat or subtlety rather than a reflection of skill.

So then the question becomes if maximizing envenom buff uptime is too simple how do you properly reward skill for an assassination rogue. The answer I believe has two parts, timing restrictions and superlinear scaling. The problem with a simple uptime based scheme is it doesn’t tax your resources, if you don’t have enough energy to get another envenom out immediately then no big deal, buff uptime is still buff uptime. There are minor effects due to envenom pooling but as with raw uptime the impact of those is negligible. A more challenging system that would better reward players for good resource utilization should tax the player’s resource pool more. This is where timing requirements come in, by providing small windows where the player needs to use resources this encourages resource pooling and spending. For an envenom uptime based scheme a possible solution is to use buff continuity rather than raw uptime, that is how long can you keep the envenom buff up without letting it drop?

This is where the second requirement comes in, superlinear scaling. Keeping the envenom buff up for 12 seconds and letting it fall off then putting it up for 12 seconds again doesn’t require as much skill (yes and RNG) as keeping it up for 24 seconds straight despite being the same in raw uptime. The reward structure, that is damage amount, should scale proportional to difficulty.

This leads to injection, a simple passive that achieves both of these with some caveats/weaknesses discussed later.

Injection-Every second the envenom buff is active the player deals N damage to the target for every stack of injection and gains a stack of injection, max 30 stacks. The injection buff lasts 2 seconds.

The scaling on this may not be immediately obvious but the number of 1 stack injection events follows the triangular numbers and is shown in the graph below. The important thing to note is that the damage scales strongly superlinearly. For comparison consider three players with different levels of continuity with the same total envenom uptime, 30 seconds, assume each injection proc does 1 damage. Player 1 lets the envenom buff drop after every envenom and over 30 seconds of uptime does 75 damage. Player 2 has an uptime of 12 seconds and 18 seconds, this player does 219 damage. Player 3 has a single 30 second uptime and does 435 damage. This scales very fast with duration, to reduce the scaling additional stacks could be gained every 2 ticks or injection could occur every 2 seconds rather than 1. Additionally the impact of this scaling will depend heavily on the percentage of total damage injection does and this scaling pattern clearly won’t account for the majority of assassination damage.

Triangle numbers

Triangle numbers

Some people reading are probably up in arms about the RNG impact of this mechanic, to them I say, RNG is not inherently a bad thing. Reacting appropriately to RNG is an indication of skill, a skilled player will turn bad RNG into acceptable performance and good RNG into exceptional performance. I do not believe this system will add significantly more RNG into assassination dps than already exists through mechanics such as blindside and general encounter to encounter variance in crit rates and the like.

There are a couple of issues with this mechanic. First it increases the dependence on anticipation. This is not a unique issue, one of the powerful components of anticipation is that it allows to players to smooth out combo point RNG. This is going to be hugely valuable in any scheme relating to the envenom buff and a number of other schemes that modify combo point usage. The second issue is gear which again will be an issue with most envenom based systems. At low gear levels when envenom uptimes are in the 40-50% range there is a fair degree of additional buff continuity to be gained by careful play however at higher gear levels when envenom uptimes can increase to upwards of 80% like they are today envenom buff continuity is basically trivial. This will be an issue with most envenom buff based schemes, we will basically scale out of the difficulty and that does seem problematic. A possible solution is to nerf the duration of the envenom buff by 25% to 50%. This would make it very unlikely that we could achieve envenom buff uptimes of over 70% and 50% respectively without external factors.

I’m not saying this is a perfect idea, or that it would in practice even be a fun idea but I believe that a time limited and thus resource limited system with superlinear scaling like this injection mechanic is something Blizzard should pursue. Even if this idea ends up being a bust I hope this idea sparks some conversation about what kinds of passive abilities could liven up and increase the skill cap of the assassination spec.