Monday, October 14, 2013

A Subtle Change

The big news of the day is...I've gone subtlety.  After nearly 4 years of die-hard assassination I finally had to swap specs.

I really had no choice.  The recent assassination nerf was...brutal, to say the least.  I saw my dps drop at least 20k literally overnight.  Suddenly I went from being #1 on the charts nearly every fight to not even beating the tanks on some fights.  It was really depressing.

The word on the street was that assn spec was overdue for a nerf compared to not only the other two rogue specs, but all the other melee dps as well.  That's apparently according to dps logs, although I can agree based on personal observation as well.

All throughout ToT my dps was always #1 or 2.  I only saw some competition for the top spot on add-heavy fights like Horridon.  A lot of fights in ToT were static for me anyways since my aoe/multi-target dps was weaker than most so I ended up almost never pulling add duty.  Which, of course, ended up skewing the meters towards my favor even more.  But even on fights like Jin-Rokh or Durumuu I was untouchable.

Then came the 5% overall damage reduction nerf.  I guess I didn't realize how big of an impact that would have.  Considering that some other dps classes and specs got buffed at the same time, all of a sudden my dps plummeted in comparison.  The first week of Siege I was still top, then the second week (when the nerf came) suddenly I was bottom.

There are other things as well such as gear drops that I won't go into, because bad gear was never a limiting factor for me when I played assassination.  In fact, I went through all of ToT using daggers from Terrace while other people had thunderforged weapons so I don't think it's all about gear.

Anyways, so I respecced that very week to subtlety.  I would've preferred to play combat as the rotation is simpler than sub but sadly I had no slow MH weapons.  Not a single one.  So I had to go sub.  *gulp*

Subtlety spec was a huge step up in difficulty for me.  I guess I never realized what a truly brain-dead spec assassination was until I tried a spec that actually requires all of your focus.

With assassination there are exactly 2 buffs you want to maintain in your rotation: slice and dice and rupture.  But in reality, you don't even have to think about maintaining SnD because it gets automatically refreshed by your envenom, which is your main finishing move that you cast all the time.  Rupture is the only thing you need to worry about, and with the tier 6 talent Anticipation, keeping enough combo points around to make sure rupture never drops was no problem either.

With Subtlety you have to maintain SnD, rupture, hemo, and to the extent you can, Find Weakness.  None of these buffs refresh automatically meaning you have to keep an eye on all of them at all times.  Hemo is easily refreshed but it's not as strong of a combo point generator as backstab so you want to avoid spamming it.  You can't maintain FW full time as it's only up right after a stealth opener (meaning I would have to vanish or use shadow dance) but you want to maximize its uptime.

Which brings me to another thing - using CDs.  With assn all your cooldowns are the "activate and then not worry about it" type.  Vendetta, shadow blades, and vanish.  Vendetta and SB you just set it and forget it.  Vanish is a small dps boost in that you can get a free ambush, so I usually just saved it for an aggro drop.  To maximize dps I simply timed all my CDs to go off at the same time, preferably in conjunction with a bloodlust.  On fights like Jin Rokh or Durumuu where we lusted on pull my dps would easily break the 500k mark just by stacking multiple CDs + lust + potion.

Subtlety is a lot more...subtle.  All my CDs are focused on getting the find weakness buff and maximizing its uptime.  Which means I always want to open out of stealth and start the buff going.  Then you have to use your CDs one by one, making sure that it doesn't overlap too much and waste your FW uptime.  For instance, you wouldn't want to use Shadow Dance and then vanish right after that when you still have 5 seconds left on your FW.  You want to be smart about cycling through your CDs.

My opener is always ambush x 2 (tier 1 talent subterfuge makes this possible), get all my buffs going then start shadow dance when FW runs out.  Shadow Dance is tricky because you want to make sure you're almost capped on energy before you start (to allow you to spam ambush as much as possible) and you want to make sure you're behind the boss. When FW from shadow dance runs out, vanish and ambush x 2 (again, want to cap energy before so you can get both ambushes).  Use Preparation to reset vanish and use again once FW runs out.  Then use shadow blades -  you don't want it to overlap with FW because SB allows you to bypass armor anyways.  Once SB runs out, the cooldown on shadow dance should be almost finished, at which point you SD again.  After that it's about using whatever CDs come off cooldown first.  All the while maintaining SnD, rupture, and hemo and keeping an eye on your anticipation stacks to make sure you're not capping out combo points from Honor Among Thieves proc.

You see how long it took me to explain all that?  Here's the assassination rotation: Open out of stealth, ambush, use combo points to start SnD.  Get 5 combo points with mutilate, use rupture.  Use SB and Vendetta either on pull or on bloodlust.  Keep up rupture.

Another big thing is stat priorities.  With assn I used a mastery build, which increases the flat damage of your poisons.  My energy regen was slow, but my poisons hit hard and made up the bulk of my damage.  Which meant I had reliable damage output through deadly poison and envenom, and the pace of combat was relatively slow.  I never had to worry about capping energy because of the slow regen.

With sub, I use a haste build, which means my energy regens really fast.  I'm constantly trying to spam as much backstab as possible to make sure I'm not capping.  My poisons don't hit as hard and instead I'm relying on increased trinket and meta gem procs due to the high haste.  So my damage is spikey - sometimes when everything procs at once it skyrockets and sometimes when nothing procs it's very low.  I see as much as a 40k difference in two different attempts at the exact same fight.

Positioning is also a huge deal.  I remember back in Dragon Soul everyone complained that they couldn't play sub because of the Ultraxion fight, where you're literally stuck in front of the boss with nowhere else to go.  Well, I'm glad there really aren't any fights like that in SoO and I can manage to get behind the boss 95% of the time.  Because you can't use ambush or backstab unless you're behind, which is incredibly crucial to my rotation and damage.  Hemo is useable in front, but so much weaker compared to backstab.  Mutilate has no positioning requirement which made assn so much simpler.

It took me two weeks of trial and error to finally get comfortable with subtely.  I think I've got the basics down as far as rotation and buff uptimes, I just need to fine tune and really learn the gritty little details to squeeze out the extra 5k dps.  With assassination everything was muscle memory  for me, whereas I've got a ways to go with sub spec.

But already I'm seeing some improvements.  For instance I finally got back on the top of the charts on Iron Juggernaut (completely static fight) and Malkorok (mostly static except for avoiding ground effects).  I'm also learning some of the severe limitations of the spec - mainly it's very poor for add-heavy fights and target-switching fights.  Since there are so many buffs to keep up and the damage ramps pretty slowly, target switching is really a dps killer.  Fights like Galakras and Spoils of Pandaria really suck for me as there isn't really a "main target" and there's nothing for me to build CPs on.

I'm considering going back to assn for those fights, but staying haste-heavy stat wise.  The damage output won't be much better than sub but at least the rotation will be simpler.  I'd love to go combat but currently I still don't have decent weapons, plus I don't think I have it in me to learn a third rogue spec!

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