One of the developers' design goals in World of Warcraft is ability parity between PvE and PvP. The problem with this strategy is that it becomes very difficult to buff a dominant PvP class if it's performing poorly in PvE. Beast mastery hunters and frost mages have long been maligned in raids while being feared in PvP combat. No spec knows this story better than the subtlety rogue, which has simultaneously been the best PvP spec and the worst PvE spec in the game.
Most active subtlety rogues are quite content, as their main focus is PvP. Due to the stringent requirements of most raiding guilds, there are only a few raiding rogues that have stuck with subtlety through the years. In order to get inside the head of these persistent shades, I spoke with one of subtlety's most stalwart champions, Haileaus. He currently maintains the amazing subtlety PvE thread on the official forums and was the rogue who inspired me to try out subtlety raiding on more than one occasion during Cataclysm.
Encrypted Text: Tell me a bit about your rogue career. When did you start your first rogue, and how long have you been playing subtlety? Do you plan to continue playing sub in Mists?
Haileaus: My rogue was my first character, made in 2005. My brother, who played a mage, told me that rogues and mages were the two best DPS classes. I'd like to say I also liked the idea of playing a shadowy assassin, but I am pretty sure that the flavor of the class came second to being able to deal top DPS. Since then, I have come to my senses and I don't think I could play a non-rogue/assassin class in any game.
I liked the idea of playing a subtlety rogue from the very beginning, before I even knew that intellect was a useless stat for rogues and I shouldn't just use whatever gear had the most armor -- we were all noobs once. The draw of the spec has currently evolved into enjoying the difficult playstyle, the incredible burst capabilities, and being able to beat hunters on the DPS charts while playing the underdog spec.
I do plan on continuing to play sub in Mists, if only because I have a guide to maintain. I am confident that Blizzard will be able to keep it close enough to other DPS specs that, with proper application of skill, any theoretical loss in DPS can be made up for.
Subtlety's viability and flavor
Have you ever been benched because you played subtlety? Have you ever had to swap specs to keep your raid spot?
I have never been explicitly refused a spot due to my spec, although I have been strongly encouraged not to raid as it, or told during/after a raid that I should respec if I want to do more DPS.
I play sub whenever it is viable for the role I for which I am using it. For leveling and PvP, this means I have pretty much always been sub. In raids, I will play sub only if I can pull my weight with it. This meant playing combat in The Burning Crusade and assassination for Wrath until patch 4.0 was released. Unfortunately, I completely missed out on raiding during the bugged HaT days.
In Cataclysm, I tried sub at first but quickly saw it lacked viability. When patch 4.0.6 came out and included several buffs to subtlety's raw damage output, I went back to sub, and it's been my main spec throughout the remainder of the expansion. Since Firelands, I have used combat as my backup spec, but my reforging is still subtlety-oriented.
Obviously, subtlety currently has a lot of fun toys at its disposal, like Preparation and Shadowstep. Are you concerned that subtlety is losing some of its flavor to the new talent system in Mists, as every spec will have access to many of sub's previously signature abilities?
I don't equate losing an ability to the new talent system with losing spec identity, as some abilities contribute to the identity more than others. I define spec identity as the combination of areas in which a spec excels more than the competing specs.
Aspects of the subtlety identity are mainly high mobility, survivability, and potent burst. While I do feel that sub will lose some of its identity, we will also gain or enhance our class identity. Whether or not too much of sub's identity will be lost to the talents I don't know, so I am holding off judgment for now.
The balance between specs
I agree with one of your ideas that a complex/difficult task (like playing sub) should be more rewarding than a simple/easy task (like playing combat). The question is how large should the bonus be? If it's too strong, then people are forced to play the difficult spec. On the other hand, if the bonus is too weak, many people will take the easy way out. Any ideas for how to balance this?
My general philosophy is that a class is balanced if all specs perform relatively equally when adding the effectiveness of each spec for every raid boss in a tier.
This means that the main factor for what spec does the most DPS (with average gear/skill) should be fight mechanics, with each spec being optimal for about third or more of the fights in each tier, and with all specs being viable for every fight. If each spec wins three fights each in a nine-boss tier, that's balanced.
With that in mind, I think DPS should be balanced with the assumption that people are not playing with exceptional skill. Playing a spec well should be a noticeable bonus but not so large as to make the hard-mode spec dominate a tier if played well. As to what that means as far as percentages are concerned, I can't say, but as the ideal fight happens at best once a tier, theoretical DPS potential seems pretty irrelevant when considering balance.
Makes sense. A fight like Ultraxion is all right even though it's slanted directly against subtlety rogues because there's a fight like the Spine of Deathwing which favors subtlety over the other specs. Every spec gets its 15 minutes of fame.
One of the most common complaints about subtlety is the sheer difficulty of managing several timers and abilities at once. How do you manage to balance your rogue in both PvE and PvP? How do you split your time between the two?
I PvE fairly consistently and PvP in waves. I generally start doing more into PvP when I am bored with PvE or playing more, then I do lots of PvP until I have to reduce the amount of time that I play. I also am a big fan of going to Elwynn Forest or Stormwind and ganking.
For PvP, as with any spec, the best thing you can do is read up about it and practice as much as possible. In general, a sub rogue should be good at controlling the fight via stuns, incapacitations, slows, Smoke Bomb, and the odd Shiv/Dismantle. We only want to really focus on burst when we are near a kill, at which point we pop Shadow Dance and burn. Other than that, the best thing you can do is play. You can also watch videos of other successful subtlety rogues like Reckful.
Haileaus, thank you for time and for answering my questions. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Blizzard's successs at balancing subtlety in Mists as the release date grows ever closer.
Sneak in every Wednesday for our Molten Front ganking guide, a deep-dive into the world of playing a subtlety rogue -- and of course, all the basics in our guide to the latest rogue gear.