During some of the forum discussions of subtlety positional requirements Haileaus, the author of the EJ and official forum Subtlety Guides and one of the more prominent subtlety boosters in the rogue community, approached me to write a guest post with his view on subtlety positional requirements. Given Hail’s experience with subtlety and as one of the more vocal subtlety rogues in the community I thought his perspective would be both interesting and instructive.
Hey all. First, note that when I refer to BS, I actually mean Backstab and Ambush; similarly, Hemo refers to Hemorrhage and Garrote.
Understanding the issue
It’s pretty easy to grasp the issue on a basic level: In PvE, subtlety rogues can only be competitive if they are attacking a mob from behind. This means there are certain fights for which a rogue simply cannot justify playing subtlety based solely on mechanics.
That said, let’s look a bit deeper. BS is a subtlety rogue’s main combo point generator. Hemo’s place is as a bleed, BS’s place is as a Ka-POW! With that in mind, there’s a distinct psychological difference between Hemo and BS rotations. Instead of our rotation being like “Ka-POW! (HaT) Ka-POW! Ka-POW! (HaT) EVISCERATE!! It becomes, HemoSpamTillICanGetAnEVISCERATE!! Note the difference in the number of capital letters and exclamation points. Alright, that was far from technical, but seriously. BS is perceived as the subtlety rogue’s main CP generator (Or in the case of Ambush, a super cool buffed generator) and Hemo as a maintenance DoT (or in the case of Garrote, useless and disappointing). Even if the difference between using BS and Hemo is under 1%, losing out on the ability to use our main generator sucks. Have you ever fought a frontal boss as sub and had to use garrote instead of ambush during Shadow Dance? It feels terrible, because you know you *should* be using ambush. Similarly, when fighting a mob from the front, there’s a distinct feeling of “I should be behind you to use BS.”
So yeah, there’s the issue of balancing PvE, and that is very important, but one thing that should be considered is the fact that even if mastery/Hemo were buffed to the point where a Hemo build was viable from behind, it would still feel wrong.
Comparing Positional Requirements to Old Blade Flurry
Lately I’ve come to the conclusion that the BS positional requirements are the evil twin of the old Blade Flurry. For those of you who don’t remember, BF used to cleave 100% of physical damage to a second target. This made combat the spec to play for any cleave fight. Many raiders felt compelled to have a combat off-spec since for certain fights since it was so completely OP. Combat was already pretty decent (generally a bit lower than the other two theoretically on single target DPS), but BF, with its ~80% damage boost, made raid leaders ask their rogues to go combat for certain fights. Trust me, I know.
Let’s do some comparing:
(Cmt) In certain fights, due to mechanics, combat rogues would have a clear advantage – so much as to compel people to respec solely for BF. (sub) In certain rights, subtlety rogues have a clear disadvantage – so much as to compel people to respec solely to be able to play their spec to its potential.
(Cmt) The norm is single target, which means being able to cleave with BF is a bonus. (Sub) The norm is behind the boss, which means not being able to BS is a punishment.
(Cmt) BF hurt players by pressuring them to play a spec which they may potentially dislike. (Sub) Positional requirements hurt players by pressuring them to not play a spec which they may potentially prefer.
(Cmt) BF made it possible for there to be two “wrong” specs for certain fights. (Sub) BS makes it possible for there to be a “wrong” spec for certain fights.
I don’t know about you, but this sort of comparison helps me alot, because the issue with BS is a lot like that of BF. Yeah, sure, there are differences, but the crux of the issue is that on certain fights one spec performs vastly differently than average solely due to fight mechanics. With BF, that meant combat was OP sometimes. With BS, that means sub is UP sometimes.
Trying to balance around this is incredibly difficult, especially with players being able to switch specs on the fly. Now yes, it is easier to balance sub’s frontal damage to be more in line with other specs by buffing Hemo, but you still run into the issue of sub rogues wanting to use BS. Also, garrote during ShD will never stop sucking.
When you put positional requirements into this context, it is easy to see that it is an issue of spec health. Since very recently, I had always viewed positional requirements as a skill issue, and something to justify higher theoretical dps. Fact is though, it is only a skill issue in PvP; and I’m not convinced the higher theoretical dps needed to bump sub up would be consistent enough through the patches to make it worthwhile. (That said I think sub’s place during DS was about right) It’s easy to say “that’s the way it’s always been,” and leave it at that, but tradition for the sake of tradition rarely makes logical sense. This one mechanic clearly has hurt the spec, and will continue to have a toxic influence on it regardless of its current viability, theoretical or otherwise. With that in mind, something does have to change. The question though, is what? After all…
Subtlety Rogues do it from Behind
Don’t try to fool me, I know a lot of you feel it too. What if the positional requirements were outright removed? You’d see all those little nublet sub rogues using their wee BSs facing the enemy. There’s just something so wrong about that isn’t there? In theory I like some of the ideas about a bonus from attacking from behind with Backstab, but as Fierydemise noted, removing the positional requirements and buffing BS from behind is mechanically the same as removing the positional requirements and nerfing BS from the front – which is almost the same as buffing Hemo’s base damage and nerfing its bleed (to keep the Hemo DoT damage unchanged; this is only the same outside ShD). The problem with that approach (as laid out by my host earlier) is that you still have an unnaturally large gap between sub’s frontal dps and its back dps. Thus you may have closed the gap a bit, but the same issues persist, including the feeling that you aren’t getting the most out of your abilities when you are facing the target. And with that, I’ve backed myself into a corner. Of course, a good rogue always has another option.
Tear Down The Wall!
All of these issues stem from the assumption that sub rogues, with their Stealth and Backstabs and Ambushes, just want to sneak up behind someone and kill them before they turn around. Maybe I’m self-projecting, but I do think there’s a belief that if you are a subtlety rogue and you are face-to-face with your enemy, you’re doing it wrong. Well guess what, NPCs have parry, so if you are a melee and are face-to-face with your enemy, you’re already doing it wrong. Fact is a good combat rogue will maximize their time behind the boss just as much as a good subtlety rogue. I don’t know about you, but when I am in the right position, pressing my buttons at exactly the right time, I get a great deal of satisfaction, and I sure as hell don’t need a nerf to my BS when I am facing the boss to remind me that such behavior is highly suboptimal.
I don’t care if BS is an outdated mechanic or not. That’s an irrelevant and stupid argument that holds no meaning. What I do care about, is the state of subtlety PvE. When the viability of a spec depends so strongly on how many fights in the current tier have a specific mechanic, something is wrong. When something is wrong, something needs to change. Removing the positional requirements of BS would change optimal play only in the sense that it would allow the spec to be played to its fullest capacity on every fight, which can only be a good thing. Yes, the positional requirement of subtlety is part of its identity, but so was the old Blade Flurry; just because something is part of one’s identity doesn’t mean it isn’t toxic.
Oh Yeah, that PvP Thing
All you PvPers whining about how sub’s positional requirements should be removed are being dumb. Getting behind a player really isn’t that hard. That said if the positional requirements were removed I wouldn’t think much would change in PvP – at least not in the higher brackets. (I did Tweet Rzn asking what his take on it would be. His response was “would be interesting…that would mean i could play on EU servers more efficiently :P” (Source) Honestly I’m not sure what to make of that.
A Final Aside
With the introduction of LFR contact with bad tanks has become a lot more frequent, and as such positional requirements have gotten a lot more annoying, so there is now something to be said for the quality of life argument. I haven’t tried Brawler’s Guild, but I hear disgruntlement on that front as well.