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 Expose Armor’s current implementation for rogues (and to a lesser extent warriors) feels outdated.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.

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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.