Mists of Pandaria Rogue Postmortem

With Blizzcon starting tomorrow its worth thinking about how the MoP rogue changes ended up playing out and some possible places to change in 6.0. This post is very long and covers a lot of ground, bring gorp.

Talents
Glyphs
Raid Role
Class Changes
Conclusion

Talents:

The 5.0 talent changes were controversial especially after talents were freshly revamped in Cataclysm. We all know the rationale by now, less choices but more interesting ones. It’s a solid goal, the “you do X% more damage” talents were never interesting so cutting things down is a good idea in theory. Of course theory is a dangerous place full of spherical cows in frictionless rooms and in practice the talent system has worked somewhat less well.

At MoP launch the rogue talent tree was one of the worst in the game however credit to Blizzard, they have done a very good job iterating on the talent tree design and the talent trees we have now are much better but they are certainly not without problems.

T1 The T1 talents are something of a problem for many classes because they need to provide tools that are useful to a player at level 15 when a huge chunk of the toolkit isn’t available. Making the tier stealth based given its prominent role in leveling makes a ton of sense, the lackluster nature of the tier for max level PvE highlights a much larger underlying issue with the role of stealth, or lack thereof in max level PvE. This is a big issue, much bigger than one talent tier and one that Blizzard isn’t going to solve with just a talent tier but if Blizzard does want to make big changes to the rogue class looking at the role of stealth in max level PvE would be an interesting place to start.

If Blizzard doesn’t want to reevalute the role of stealth to the rogue class then T1 needs further changes to balance out the talents. Nightstalker is a very strong leveling talent, especially since it stacks with movement speed increases however at max level it’s quite lackluster, it is basically unused in both max level PvE and PvP. The big problem with nightstalker is that it is a utility talent first and a dps talent second unlike shadow focus which is primarily a dps talent. Subterfuge is a primarily utility talent as well but it has very strong synergy with subtlety allowing it to become a dps talent.

T1 would be better served by converting all the talents into primarily all dps or all utility focused talents and not a mixture of both. My preference would be for the T1 talents to be primarily utility focused, vanish as a lackluster dps cooldown for combat and assassination doesn’t add much to either spec. Under this scheme to keep subterfuge from becoming a dps increasing talent for subtlety it could be changed to break stealth immediately after using a damaging ability but still providing additional stealth time if stealth was broken by damage. This would preserve its function as a protection against stealth breaks without being a dps increase. Shadow focus would probably have to be completely reworked.

T2: Tier 2 has remained a “dartboard tier” for most of the expansion. Nerve Strike has some situational value on single target stun fights and combat readiness was useful on Dark Animus but in general if T2 disappeared tomorrow most PvE rogues wouldn’t notice the difference. There were a lot of discussions during beta about whether dartboard tiers represented a failure of talent design, I still believe they do however it appears Blizzard isn’t overly concerned so we’re probably stuck with them.

Regardless T2 needs changes, as with nightstalker in T1 no one really seems to like deadly throw in either PvE or PvP. It has niche use with shuriken toss as a ranged rogue but that is mighty thin gruel as one of our 18 possible talent choices. As a more general issue T2 really lacks a theme, if you squint and rotate your head slightly you can say combat readiness and nerve strike have a central survivabilityish theme but its weak. Even if we do accept a weak theme between combat readiness and nerve strike deadly throw just doesn’t fit and should be replaced. I’d like to see its replacement be a better PvE talent given the generally lackluster nature of the tier but T2 remaining a dartboard tier for another expansion wouldn’t be the end of the world.

T3: The survivability tier is probably the best rogue tier for PvE. You can make a decent case for both Elusiveness and Cheat Death in PvE each with their strengths and weaknesses. I think elusiveness is a very overrated talent for PvE but it’s at least a choice you can make a decent argument for. Leeching Poison however is a problem. As with the black sheep in T1 and T2 Leeching Poison doesn’t have much of an audience in PvE or PvP. Leeching Poison is an interesting idea but it just can’t keep up with the other two. Three simple changes would make leeching poison a lot more compelling, it wouldn’t necessarily solve the problems but it would be a good start at least.

  1. Change the talent to Leeching Poisons: Leeching Poison is a debuff applied by all poison applications, lethal and non-lethal. You shiv now heals for 5% of your total health if you shiv a target with the Leeching Poison debuff.
  2. Leeching Poison heals for 10% of all damage done not just weapon strikes.
  3. Overhealing from Leeching Poison becomes a shield for up to 30% of your max health.

The big problem with leeching poison in PvE is that it doesn’t do much against burst damage which is the primary form of dangerous damage in most raid encounters and it provides no benefit during time off target while generally resulting in a lot of overhealing. Change (3) would help remedy that while still leaving it as a strong talent for pulsing AoE fights. The first two changes are designed to lift restrictions on the talent that the other two talents in the tier do not suffer from. Neither are deal breakers on their own but they are unnecessary limitations when compared to competing, generally stronger talents.

T4: The mobility tier is probably in the running for most improved tier of any talent tier in the game. The infamous preparation vs. shadowstep choice didn’t impact PvE that much but it made T4 the subject of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. In its current form shadowstep is the dominant choice but burst of speed has established its niche now that the energy cost is low enough that it doesn’t feel overly punitive, although it may not feel that way at the start of next expansion when energy regen again drops substantially.

Cloak and Dagger needs a revamp, it never was that interesting of a PvE (with the obvious exception of the Siegecrafter gimmick before it got fixed) and was basically a one trick pony for subtlety PvP. In general having a talent that is basically only good for one spec seems like a problem and now that cloak and dagger has lost its signature gimmick it is basically an unused talent in PvE and PvP. Many people have suggested replacing it with the talent that was briefly in that position on the 5.2 PTR, Hit and Run however realistically Hit and Run is strictly inferior to shadowstep for most purposes and doesn’t add much to PvE. I’m not sure if it is feasible to make a talent that can compete with shadowstep on a regular basis in PvE but that would certainly be an interesting place for iteration during 6.0 beta.

T5: Another dartboard tier although probably better than T2. T5 has a clear theme even though none of the talents jump out for PvE. If Blizzard wants to reduce the number of dartboard tiers I wouldn’t mind changes to T5 but it’s a basically functional tier with a strong theme and some interesting PvP uses so I won’t be too upset if it isn’t changed.

T6: This is a tricky tier, on one hand anticipation is probably one of the best things to happen to rogue PvE in a long time. It adds actual interaction with the combo point system that was badly needed. On the other hand Anticipation is going to be awfully hard to make rogues part with because it is such a major quality of life talent. Anticipation isn’t a huge dps increase, on the order of 1-2% depending on spec and usage but it feels absolutely essential. Marked for Death is an interesting talent in its own right and in certain gear sets it is competitive with if not outright better than Anticipation but it is regarded as a generally situational choice because Anticipation provides substantial quality of life in addition to a dps increase. Part of the issue is rogue rotations in MoP seem to be heavily balanced around anticipation, during shadow blades assassination can generate 4cps per mutilate, without anticipation that would be very frustrating to handle. While I am generally very skeptical of pushing to baseline talents anticipation needs to be baseline in some, perhaps weaker (only up to 3 anticipation stacks) form. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that anticipation has become so deeply ingrained in rogue dps during MoP that if we were forced out of it in 6.0 it would feel like a huge loss for the class.

Shuriken Toss also needs to be addressed. Shuriken Toss was a bad idea for a talent from day one and the multiple iterations on the talent haven’t really changed that. Many people find the concept of a rogue ranged dps spec appealing but two otherwise lackluster talents aren’t really enough. I was never exactly clear on the role of Shuriken Toss to begin with, for high end guilds you’ll bring a real ranged dps over a gimped rogue and for lower end guilds raid comp restrictions aren’t a big enough deal to make a pseudo-ranged dps rogue worth using. Even in PvP after its brief surge during early 5.2 Shuriken Toss usage has been anemic at best. It is decent for soloing and kiting but that doesn’t seem like a large enough use case to chew up one of 18 talent slots.

Overall the rogue talent trees are in a pretty good shape, there is a black sheep talent in almost every tier but they aren’t too bad. The problem is rogue talents aren’t all that good either. The new talent system had two real big ideas behind it, the end of cookie cutter specs and adaptability. The rogue talent tree doesn’t really do that, you will stick with a cookie cutter spec for 90% of all fights. What the tree really lacks is a tier of talents that offer interesting and situational rotational changes. For comparison look at something like Priest T5, each talent has an obvious, distinct, use case, you have an execute talent, single target non-execute talent and a multidotting talent. To a certain extent rogues can achieve similar results by changing specs but that shouldn’t be a replacement for interesting PvE talent tiers. Imagine if rogues had something like priest T5, you could use the talent to cover for underlying spec weaknesses, or beef up a spec’s advantages and switch on a fight to fight basis. This would have the added effect of mitigating some of the downsides of the niche heavy design of rogue specs.

Which tier to replace is an interesting question, T2 is clearly the weakest tier in the grid so it would make an obvious choice but T6 could also be a possible candidate if anticipation is changed and/or baselined in some way. Marked for Death is a powerful add fight talent, now we just need two more talents.

Glyphs:

The revamped glyph system in MoP is again a good idea hampered by somewhat poor execution. The goals of the glyph system are basically the same as talents, make situationally useful options and get rid of cookie cutter builds. The underlying problem with the glyph system is Blizzard doesn’t seem to be willing to go all the way on this design. We are saddled with glyphs that are effectively mandatory which get in the way of the generally interesting utility glyphs. Blizzard has to their credit made things somewhat better with the baselining of the Glyph of Adrenaline Rush, a mandatory talent if I ever saw one but then in the same breath adding the Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins.

Glyphs needing Revaluation:
Glyph of Smoke Bomb: With smoke bomb now a raid cooldown that is a huge part of rogue raid viability (more on that later) this talent is probably the most mandatory of any, 2 additional seconds of 20% damage reduction is incredibly powerful and not something any raid leader in their right mind will let you drop. I’m not sure if smoke bomb being 7 seconds baseline would be too powerful in PvP, and if assassination and subtlety were unburdened by the next two talents on this list this glyph would be less of issue.

Glyph of Vendetta: I’ve never understood the purpose of this glyph, it’s a small dps increase, on the order of 1% for making vendetta slightly more inconvenient. Vendetta by virtue of its long duration is already typically used on high time on target situations, this glyph doesn’t really change that calculus. If Blizzard is wedded to this concept the reverse glyph would be more interesting, that way the baseline behavior is for sustained single target dps and the burst focused, sustained dps loss glyph is an option. This would make the glyph feel less mandatory. The magnitude of a glyph like this should be greater, halve the duration for 50% increase in potency (from 30% to 45% damage increase), would make a much clearer choice.

Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins: This feels like having to glyph to have a basically functional spec. Subtlety has suffered all expansion from poor target swapping since hemorrhage was taken off sanguinary veins in MoP. Allowing rogues to get that functionality back has greatly improved subtlety and is a large part of its viability this tier. This seems like an obvious thing that should be baseline and not need to consume a glyph slot. With the increased target swapping in today’s raiding environment a spec that has weak target swapping will struggle immensely.

Glyph of Expose Armor: Why is expose armor still hard to put up for rogues and warriors? While the raid buff system has generally been streamlined the armor debuff for rogues and warriors remains an odd relic of a time when raid buffs required more maintenance than they do today. Especially given that druids can put the debuff up for a minimal dps loss the existence of expose armor and sunder as stacking abilities just seems odd. Glyph of Sharpened Knives is more acceptable because it provides functionality that isn’t readily available and so it has some potential situational use.

This leaves a number of interesting glyph choices that do provide the situational powerful functionality that Blizzard has said they want. Sprint, Redirect, Feint, Cloak of Shadows and Sharpened Knives are all interesting options. If Glyph of Smoke Bomb is left as a glyph this would provide two free glyph slots that could be swapped per fight which seems like an acceptable level of choice while not allowing rogues to have everything all the time.

Raid Role:

Blizzard has done an admirable job since they instituted Bring the Player not the Class at making raid comp a much more variable while at the same time preserving the niches that give different specs their chance to shine. I’ll talk more about spec specific niches in the next section for now I want to focus on the role of rogues as a class in raids first as a generic melee dps and then in a few specific roles.

Rogues as Generic Melee DPS
As I mentioned in my T15 recap post T14 wasn’t a bad a tier for rogues but it wasn’t really a good one either. Rogues certainly weren’t being sat en masse but they weren’t necessarily in high demand either. T14 took the raid cooldown arms race to the next level with new abilities like Demoralizing Banner and a high burst damage design that basically demanded multiple raid cooldowns. I am of the opinion that the cooldown arms race needs to be disarmed and raid cooldowns should be restricted to tanks and healers for a number of reasons but until Blizzard does this raid cooldowns are a borderline mandatory part of the melee dps toolkit.

The addition of Power Word: Smoke Bomb in T15 helped remedy this and combined with high damage moved rogues toward the top of the melee dps stack. For a 25 man raiding guild there really was no reason to try and pick up another rogue or two to shore up your melee dps roster. T16 has in many ways continued this trend, rogues are still top flight dps with high survivability and a potent raid cooldown. Smoke Bomb isn’t as powerful as Rallying Cry, Demoralizing Banner or Devotion Aura that are also available from melee dps its still a strong cooldown that combined with rogue’s other strengths makes them a very strong melee dps option. From a strict raid spot perspective it would be very hard to argue that rogues have been in a bad spot in PvE during MoP.

Rogues as Stunners
In the past rogues were the stun class, if you needed a stun in PvE you probably wanted a rogue, with the lowest cooldown and longest duration stun in the game it was worth the resource cost. During the MoP beta one of the defenses of the new talent trees is that we can make utility more useful in future encounters and to their credit Blizzard has, there are a number of fights this expansion where stuns and other often unused parts of the utility toolkit are important to raid success. Additionally rogues have a pair of talents that enhance stun effectiveness seemingly increasing our dominance as stunners. In practice however this hasn’t been true, the MoP stun kings have been monks and paladins.

There are two problems with rogues as stun kings. First, most encounters that need stuns need AoE stuns. Fights like Lei Shen that hinge on stuns generally require an AoE stun rather than a single target stun something which rogues do not have. This on its own isn’t a bad thing, it’s perfectly acceptable for a class to have weaknesses the problem is rogues have also lost our strength as the preeminent single target stunners. The paladin talent fist of justice provides a 6 second stun with a 30 second cooldown that is also ranged and costs a single GCD. For most mechanics this 30 second cooldown is more than adequate combined with the lower cost makes it a generally superior option to Kidney Shot. Additionally AoE stuns like Leg Sweep with a 5 second duration and 45 second cooldown are strong options for single target stuns as well when AoE stuns aren’t required. The problem with this is based on our talent grid it appears Blizzard still thinks of rogues as stun kings, we have talents in two separate tiers that improve our stuns which lay mostly useless because other classes are better options. For PvP reasons the combo point cost of Kidney Shot probably can’t be removed but I think it’s a valid question if Kidney Shot is still superior enough to justify the dps and usability cost associated with the combo point cost.

Rogues as Soakers
At the end of T11 the great rogue theorycrafter Aldriana talked in a blog post about a possible 4th raid role, the role of the soaker or high survivability player. This post was made in the context of T11 where rogues weak burst made them a substantial liability and fights like Valiona and Theralion showcased rogue’s immense survivability. While Blizzard hasn’t embraced this idea completely the role of the soaker is an increasingly common one in raids and one that rogues are very well suited for. While other classes can certainly handle some of these mechanics no class can match rogues for regular soaking. Mechanics like Aim on Paragons of the Klaxxi get much easier with multiple rogues in the raid.

Rogues may actually be too dominant in this role. The combination of feint and cloak of shadows allows rogues to soak damage much more often than other classes. The question for Blizzard is how common will soak roles be in future tiers, at this point we are at 2-3 encounters per tier, a high number but perhaps not enough for it to become a major balance issue. If soak mechanics become more common then rogues will probably need a nerf in effectiveness and/or other classes will need to be buffed to be more effective regular soakers.

Spec Balance
Blizzard has done an admirable job for most of MoP keeping multiple rogue dps specs balanced on single target dps. There have however been issues with spec balance relating to niche design. During T15 combat rogues suffered from a distinct lack of fights that played to their cleave niche which made the spec much less desirable then its pure single target dps would indicate. Similarly subtlety has suffered all expansion from a general lack of niche which has hindered the specs viability in high end raiding. On the flip side T14 showed the issue with having a niche that is too strong where pretty much every rogue went combat for cleave heavy fights. I remain convinced that niche based design is good for the game for the reasons I outlined here but Blizzard has to be very careful to provide uses for a variety of different niches during a tier otherwise a spec may be left behind. Despite niche design Blizzard must be very careful to not allow a spec to be too weak in any one area, if a spec becomes too weak in one area then it ceases to be an effective general purpose spec. This has been a major issue with subtlety especially during T16.

Class Changes:
Shadow Blades was a solid addition to the class, it isn’t the most interesting cooldown but it does change our dps rotation slightly which is more than you can say for vendetta. On the downside the increased combo point generation increases the reliance on anticipation as a talent because of combo point overflow. Fan of Knives as a combo point generator and the addition of crimson tempest were good additions that helped flesh out the rogue AoE rotation. Some players feel that the fact that crimson tempest isn’t used by all specs is weak design however AoE rotations are one place were rogue specs are well differentiated. The reduction of deadly poison to a single stack was a very significant change that helped solve some of the underlying target swapping issues that plagued rogues during Cataclysm.

The baselining of preparation in 5.2 was mostly a non-event for PvE rogues, while preparation has some utility potential it resets so few abilities at this point that it isn’t a huge deal.

Assassination
Assassination has been the goto spec for most of MoP for a number of reasons. Assassination has been a consistently high performer with a very common niche (execute), competent AoE, acceptable burst and a very simple rotation. Assassination is also the most unique of the three rogue specs in terms of playstyle with its slower energy regen, higher ability cost and not quite spammable finisher in envenom. The big addition to assassination in MoP was Blindside which has basically been a success, dispatch hits hard enough that a procced dispatch feels like a reward of some sort.

Areas for Improvement:

  1. Assassination in MoP is one of the simplest specs in the game to play correctly and has a very low dps penalty for playing poorly. Envenom pooling, a previously important part of assassination dps has greatly reduced importance and the increase in SnD and rupture duration has made the basic rotation easier to manage.
  2. Assassination is very slow at low gear levels, while pace is an important part of the assassination kit at low gear levels the spec is boringly slow.
  3. Vendetta remains a very awkward cooldown, with the increasing target swapping requirements of raids being tied to a target for 20 seconds is often quite limiting. It is also a boring cooldown simply increasing damage done without changing player rotation at all.

Combat
Combat was a mostly strong spec during MoP, it was hamstrung during T15 by a lack of cleave fights and the T15 4pc being required to do competitive dps but during T14 and T16 it has been a strong spec in both single target and cleave scenarios. The MoP launch changes to combat were very positive, Bandit’s Guile stacking on the player rather than the target greatly helped combat in target swapping situations. The Revealing Strike change to a maintenance debuff is hard to consider positive or negative as it was such a minor change, it did however somewhat homogenize the spec with subtlety which has hemorrhage as a maintenance debuff. The T15 blade flurry change was in the long run a positive change and has certainly helped combat on the add fight heavy T16.

Areas for Improvement:

  1. Energy regeneration is a problem, the T15 4pc showcased this wonderfully but even without that bonus combat rogues would be GCD capping under adrenaline rush+shadow blades would have energy capped at some point during mid to late T15. The 50 energy sinister strike change was a bandaid and one that will hopefully be reverted before 6.0 otherwise combat will suffer a very slow pace in early tiers. There are number of ways to remedy this, adrenaline rush was arguably too powerful of a cooldown during Cataclysm and combined with shadow blades it is completely over the top. Doubling energy regen made sense when rogues had 10 energy per second, when we are approaching 15 energy per second it can very easily become a problem.
  2. Combat is too similar to subtlety, both specs play very similarly to the point where simply mapping abilities from one spec to the other is sufficient to play both specs to a relatively high level. Combat has all the makings of a highly cooldown centric spec but the playstyle at the moment doesn’t feel palpably different from subtlety.
  3. Killing Spree while certainly better than in previous expansions with the minor glyph and single target changes remains unique as the only dps cooldown that can kill you if misused. Cooldowns should need to be timed but the penalty for mistiming a cooldown should not be death.
  4. Bandit’s Guile is still a feature that players interact minimally with. In practice the feedback loop created by restless blades means saving cooldowns for higher bandit’s guile stacks tends to be a dps loss. If players are supposed to optimize around bandit’s guile further changes are needed.
  5. Combat has had an off and on relationship with rupture since Wrath, it needs to go one way or the other. Rupture doesn’t add much inherent difficulty to the combat spec and given its heavy cooldown focus I’m not sure what rupture adds to the spec. A firm decision one way or the other on rupture would be appreciated.

Subtlety
The black sheep spec, subtlety has been floating around basically unplayed at the high end during most of T14 and T15. It has enjoyed a slight resurgence during T16 due to the increased target swapping capabilities from the glyph of hemorrhaging veins and increased dps but it still suffers from the lack of solid dps niche, incredibly weak AoE and positional requirements. The MoP changes to subtlety are hard to judge, on one hand the Cata subtlety rotation was not really a good design, it was functional but only really on a patchwork style fight and even then it felt like a kludge of a spec. On the other hand the changes turned subtlety into a very similar spec to combat and generally added to the feeling of spec homogenization.

Areas for Improvement:

  1. Positional requirements just don’t work. I’ve already discussed this at length but basically unless subtlety is substantially better than combat and assassination then there is no reason to put up with positional requirements. Additionally the current, highly mobile raid design and bosses that spin with high regularity makes positional requirements even more difficult to handle.
  2. Subtlety needs a niche, combat has cleave/low target AoE and assassination has execute. During cata subtlety had a burst niche however combat has begun to creep up on subtlety in regular burst and that burst niche was generally not particularly useful. Without a niche it is very hard to justify playing subtlety on progression when other specs can provide comparable single target plus a useful niche.
  3. Subtlely AoE is very weak, subtlety has one of the weakest AoEs in the game, neither fan of knives nor crimson tempest hit particularly hard and subtlety’s AoE doesn’t synergize at all with its single target dps rotation. This AoE weakness further holds subtlety down compared to other rogue specs that have more powerful, if not necessarily best in class, AoE.
  4. Subtlety is too similar to combat and the rotation lacks a coherent dps theme. Combat has the makings of cooldown centric toolkit, assassination a poison damage and envenom centric toolkit but subtlety is all over the map. Its mastery is about finishers and honor among thieves grants high combo point generation its principle cooldowns and damage is related to stealth and openers and it has bleeds that do more damage. A more coherent theme and a rotation designed to support that theme would go a long way toward distinguishing subtlety as a spec.

Conclusion:
All things considered MoP has been a very good expansion for rogue PvE, certainly better than some of the doomsayers were saying during beta. There are issues to be sure but rogues have been one of the top melee dps choices for the past two tiers. The big question for 6.0 is whether rogues will see a warlock style revamp. Ghostcrawler has suggested multiple times on twitter that Blizzard isn’t sure the warlock revamp really helped the class population or desirability and may have been a net negative because of player alienation. Whether or not we define what happens to rogues as a warlock style revamp rogues need changes. Rogues have been mostly unchanged for two expansions now and are starting to get very stale for many players. This doesn’t require a ground up redesign, many parts of the rogue class are still quite functional but if rogues see as few changes as we saw during Cata and MoP betas, many rogues, myself included, will be disappointed. I do not worry about a rogue’s place in PvE, Blizzard has shown that they know what they are doing on that front but I am worried about the class continuing to stagnate.

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