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Subtlety Rogue DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW 4.3.4)

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Contents


Subtlety Rogue Art Image

In this article, we list your Subtlety Rogue (WoW 4.3) core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation). We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that playing a Subtlety Rogue will face you with. The other articles of our Subtlety Rogue guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the left.

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

As a Subtlety Rogue, your rotation is split in two alternating phases. First, you need to build up 5 Combo Points. Then, you spend these 5 Combo Points on a Finishing Move, before building 5 Combo Points again and so on.

The ability priority for building up Combo Points is the following:

  1. Use Ambush Icon Ambush (only usable in Stealth).
  2. Use Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage to apply and maintain the bleed effect of Glyph of Hemorrhage.
  3. Use Backstab Icon Backstab (default Combo Point builder).
  4. Use Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage as a Combo Point builder when you cannot attack the target from behind.

Note that the bleed effect from Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage lasts 24 seconds. Do not mistake it for the 1-minute debuff that Hemorrhage also applies on the target and that makes it take increased damage from bleed effects.

Once at 5 Combo Points, your Finishing Move priority is the following:

  1. Apply and refresh Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice.
  2. Apply Rupture Icon Rupture and refresh it with Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate (thanks to Serrated Blades Icon Serrated Blades).
  3. Apply and refresh Recuperate Icon Recuperate:

Subtlety is a very complex specialisation and the priorities presented here for building up and spending your Combo Points can be modified under various circumstances that we detail in subsequent sections of this article. Therefore, we advise you to keep reading.

For more information about the optimal opening sequence, refer to our dedicated section.

2. Multiple Target Rotation↑top

Subtlety is arguably the worst specialisation in the game when it comes to AoE damage. The best advice we can give you is to switch to a different specialisation (Assassination or Combat) when heavy AoE damage is crucial to your raid's success in a fight.

If you cannot/do not want to switch to a different specialisation, the only ability that you have is Fan of Knives Icon Fan of Knives, which deals a ridiculously low amount of damage. So you need about 10 enemies in the same area before you should give up your single-target rotation and switch to Fan of Knives Icon Fan of Knives. Moreover, you need a Thrown weapon in your ranged weapon slot to use this ability.

If there are not enough enemies, stick to your single-target rotation on one of them. If the enemies die too quickly and you need to frequently switch target, then stop using Rupture Icon Rupture and only keep Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice and Recuperate Icon Recuperate up (as well as Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage).

3. Poisons↑top

As a rule, always use Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison on your Main-hand weapon and Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison on your Off-hand weapon.

If you are using Fan of Knives Icon Fan of Knives for doing AoE damage, then use Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison on your Thrown Weapon. You can also use Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison with great success, if the enemies will stay alive long enough that Deadly Poison can stack up to 5 times on some of the targets.

Refer to our Poisons and Weapons section for detailed explanations about poisons and the way they influence your choices of weapons.

4. Cooldowns↑top

As a Subtlety Rogue, you have the following cooldowns: Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance, Vanish Icon Vanish, Premeditation Icon Premeditation, Preparation Icon Preparation, and Shadowstep Icon Shadowstep. Each of these cooldowns is related to your Ambush Icon Ambush ability, which is of paramount importance because it applies the Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness debuff on your target. While this debuff is active you deal increased damage to your target.

Cooldown Usage Guidelines
Use as often as possible to enable Ambush Icon Ambush and increase Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime.
Preparation Icon Preparation Use it to reset the cooldown on Vanish Icon Vanish and get more Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime. Never use Vanish Icon Vanish twice in a row, as this will cause you to override your existing Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness.
Premeditation Icon Premeditation Cast it every time you use Vanish Icon Vanish or Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance. Be careful not to waste the Combo Points this cooldown grants you.
Shadowstep Icon Shadowstep

5. Optional Read: Mastering Your Subtlety Rogue↑top

The Subtlety specialisation is very hard to play. Even though the information given above will yield good results, there is much more you need to understand before you can play your Subtlety Rogue to its full potential.

In particular, you need to understand how your rotation is influenced by your gear (your Haste especially) and how the synergy between your abilities works (especially regarding Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness).

5.1. Combo Points and Energy

As a rogue, most of your abilities need Energy to be used. Your Energy bar has a capacity of 100 Energy and refills at a rate of 10 Energy per second. Your energy regeneration is increased by:

  • your melee haste (Haste Rating + haste-enhancing buffs);
  • your critical hits with Backstab Icon Backstab, which grant you 5 Energy (thanks to Glyph of Backstab);
  • your Relentless Strikes Icon Relentless Strikes talent, which grants your Finishing Moves a 20% chance per Combo Point to restore 25 Energy;
  • your Recuperate Icon Recuperate ability, which restore 12 Energy every 3 seconds (thanks to Energetic Recovery Icon Energetic Recovery).

The faster you regenerate Energy, the more casts of Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate you can fit in your rotation.

Some abilities add one or several Combo Points on your target, up to a maximum of 5 Combo Points. Other abilities, called Finishing Moves, consume the Combo Points on your target. The more Combo Points a Finishing Move consumes, the more powerful its effect is. Your Combo Point generation is increased by:

  • Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves, which grants you a Combo Point every time you or an ally scores a critical hit (with a limit of 1 Combo Point every 2 seconds);
  • Ruthlessness Icon Ruthlessness (if talented), which grants your Finishing Moves a chance to add a Combo Point on your target.

5.2. Poisons and Weapons

As a Subtlety Rogue, you will mostly use these three poisons: Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison, Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison, and Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison. In this section, we will explain how these poisons are applied and how they influence your weapons of choice.

5.2.1. Poison Application

While the tooltip for Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison clearly mentions how often the poison is applied, the tooltips for Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison and Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison do not. For these two poisons, the number of applications per minute is fixed (between 9 and 10 for Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison and about 24 for Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison).

These numbers never change, regardless of your weapon speed, your melee haste, and the various haste buffs from which you are benefiting. For example, if you can perform 48 normal melee attacks in a minute with a Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison imbued weapon, then each of the attacks will have a 50% chance to apply the poison. If you can only perform 24 normal melee attacks, then each attack will have a 100% chance to apply the poison.

The one thing to remember is that a slow weapon is associated a higher chance to apply a poison (be it Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison or Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison) than a faster weapon. This is important because the per minute limit only affects poison applications from normal melee attacks. It does not affect poison applications from special melee attacks, which have a chance to apply the poison equal to the chance associated with their corresponding weapon.

For example, the slower your Main-hand Weapon, the higher the chance that Backstab Icon Backstab will apply Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison.

Understanding this is important, as it determines (partly) your choice of poison for your weapons as well as your choice of weapons.

5.2.2. Why Wound Poison on Thrown Weapon

Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison is a more potent poison than Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison. Even if it does much less damage than Instant Poison, Wound Poison can be applied many more times per minute, leading to higher damage. To convince yourself, you can try spamming Fan of Knives Icon Fan of Knives on a dummy with your Thrown Weapon imbued by Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison. Repeat with your Thrown Weapon imbued by Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison. Wound Poison will be a clear winner.

5.2.3. Why Instant Poison and Deadly Poison on Melee Weapons

As a Subtlety Rogue, you should always have Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison on your Main-hand Weapon and Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison on your Off-hand Weapon.

Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison is your most potent poison. It deals a sizeable amount of damage by stacking a DoT on your target, up to 5 stacks. Once at 5 stacks, each new application refreshes the DoT and applies, with a 100% chance, the poison of your other weapon.

Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison must be applied on your fastest weapon, so that you maximise the number of applications of Deadly Poison. The benefits are two-fold:

  • the chances that the DoT will drop (no application within 12 seconds) are minimised;
  • the chances that you will get additional applications of your other weapon's poison are increased.

As seen in the previous section, Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison is less potent than Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison. The experiment we described can be repeated by imbuing both melee weapons with Instant Poison and Wound Poison, and performing only normal melee attacks on a dummy. Wound Poison will be the clear winner.

The only reason why one of your weapons should be imbued with Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison is because there is Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison on the other weapon. Indeed, the guaranteed chance to apply Instant Poison with each application of Deadly Poison more than makes up for the damage penalty of using it instead of Wound Poison Icon Wound Poison.

Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison must be applied on your slowest weapon, so that the chances to apply it with your special melee attacks are maximised.

5.2.4. Weapon Choice

Your choices of weapons are influenced by several constraints. First of all, your poisons dictate that:

  • one of your weapons should be as slow as possible, so that your special melee attacks have an increased chance to apply Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison.
  • one of your weapons should be as fast as possible, so that you get as much benefit as possible from Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison;

Your abilities dictate that your Main-hand Weapon should be as slow as possible, in order to increase the damage done by each cast of Ambush Icon Ambush, Backstab Icon Backstab, and Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage. Because of Backstab Icon Backstab and Ambush Icon Ambush, you should only be using Daggers. Therefore, you should equip:

  • a 1.8 Agility Dagger (the slowest type of agility weapons you can equip) as your Main-hand Weapon and imbue it with Instant Poison Icon Instant Poison;
  • a 1.4 Agility Dagger (the fastest type of agility weapons available) as your Off-hand Weapon and imbue it with Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison.

Note that Direbrew's Bloodied Shanker is a very rare 2.0 Agility Dagger. This very particular speed makes this weapon more desirable than many 1.8 Agility Daggers of higher item level.

5.2.5. Honor Among Thieves

The most important aspect of your resource management is to learn how to rely on procs from Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves. This talent grants you a Combo Point every time a party or raid member critically hits or heals (with a limit of 1 Combo Point every 2 seconds). Use these guidelines to properly take Honor Among Thieves into account in your resource management:

  • If you have 3 Combo Points and are very low on Energy, you should wait for Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves to grant you the remaining two Combo Points. This way, you will have Energy to spend on a Finishing Move.
  • Similarly, whenever you reach 4 Combo Points, you should save your Energy and wait for Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves to give you the last Combo Point.
  • If you have 4 Combo Points and your Energy bar is almost full, then you should quickly build up another Combo Point with Backstab Icon Backstab (or Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage if you cannot attack from behind) and immediately use a Finishing Move. The idea is that risking to waste a Combo Point from Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves is not as bad as wasting Energy.

5.3. Find Weakness and Master of Subtlety

Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness is an important mechanics when playing a Subtlety Rogue. This temporary damage increase is only available after using Ambush Icon Ambush, something that happens on the pull and every time you use Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance and Vanish Icon Vanish (the cooldown of which can be reset with Preparation Icon Preparation).

Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety is a proficiency you get from choosing the Subtlety specialisation. It grants you 10% increased damage after you break out of Stealth or after dealing damage in Stealth (typically while using Ambush Icon Ambush). Note that Master of Subtlety will not proc during Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance.

As Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness and Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety are often up at the same time, we chose to detail them together.

Not all your damaging abilities are boosted by Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness and Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety:

AbilityDamage Boosted by Find Weakness Icon Find WeaknessDamage Boosted by Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety
Melee attacksYESYES
Backstab Icon BackstabYESYES
Hemorrhage Icon HemorrhageYESYES
Eviscerate Icon EviscerateYESYES
Rupture Icon RuptureNOYES

As you can see, Rupture Icon Rupture does not benefit from Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness, but it does benefit from Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety. It should, therefore, be applied while Master of Subtlety is active. Note that Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate refreshes Rupture to its original duration and damage, regardless of whether Master of Subtlety is up.

You should always time your Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance and Vanish Icon Vanish cooldowns in such a way that you do not have to refresh Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice or Recuperate Icon Recuperate. This way, you will be able to maximise the damage you will do with melee attacks, Backstab Icon Backstab, Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage, and Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate, while Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness and Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety are active.

For increased effect, you should also try to have Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness and Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety up when raid DPS cooldowns are being used (for example, Bloodlust Icon Bloodlust, Heroism Icon Heroism, or Time Warp Icon Time Warp), when you use your Potion of the Tol'vir and on-use trinkets, and when the boss takes increased damage.

5.4. More on Your Finishing Moves

First of all, of your 4 Finishing Moves, only Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice and Recuperate Icon Recuperate should ever be used with fewer than 5 Combo Points. Rupture Icon Rupture and Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate should always be used with 5 Combo Points, as it increases the damage that they deal.

You can use fewer Combo Points on Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice and Recuperate Icon Recuperate when, for example, your target is almost dead and you no longer need to refresh the buffs with their full duration.

Your ideal cycle of Finishing Moves should look like this (assuming that Rupture Icon Rupture, which is refreshed by Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate, is already up on the target):

This cycle can be hard to maintain, especially at lower gear level. As there is no real alternative, you are left with no choice but practice until you can maintain the cycle.

Because of the global cooldown, it takes you a minimum of 3 or 4 seconds (taking into account Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves) to build 5 Combo Points on a target and another second to consume these Combo Points with a Finishing Move. This means that, with infinite Energy regeneration, you would spend 4 or 5 seconds on each Finishing Move. In reality, it is closer to between 5 and 8 seconds, depending on your gear and Energy management.

5.4.1. Clipping Slice and Dice or Recuperate

Clipping refers to the action of refreshing a buff or a DoT before its duration is over. It is usually not advised to do so because you do not get the full benefit of the buff or DoT that you are refreshing (and you could have done something more useful and refreshed the buff or DoT later).

As we have seen above, clipping Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice or Recuperate Icon Recuperate will only be a concern after you have mastered managing your resources. Until then, your efforts will rather focus on refreshing these two buffs in time.

Note that clipping Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice simply refreshes it to its original duration and any remaining ticks is lost. Clipping Recuperate Icon Recuperate, on the other hand, refreshes Recuperate Icon Recuperate with a 33-second duration (instead of 30) and 11 ticks (instead of 10), at 5 Combo Points.

There are several reasons why you would want to clip Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice or Recuperate Icon Recuperate. The main reason is that it makes the rotation easier to manage. Trying to plan your finishing moves in such a way that you minimise clipping Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice or Recuperate Icon Recuperate is difficult and very prone to errors. Another reason is when you want to refresh Rupture Icon Rupture on the boss before a prolonged period of downtime; in this case, you might need to reorder your Finishing Moves in such a way that Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate is the last Finishing Move you use on the boss before the downtime.

5.5. Building Combo Points during Shadow Dance

When using Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance, Ambush Icon Ambush takes the place of Backstab Icon Backstab as your Combo Point builder. This is very beneficial as Ambush deals more damage and generates more Combo Points than Backstab.

This also means that you can use Shadow Dance (and the increased Combo Point generation) to help you put your rotation back on track, if you had been struggling to maintain Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice, Recuperate Icon Recuperate and Rupture Icon Rupture up.

5.6. Using Redirect

Redirect Icon Redirect is a very convenient ability for Rogues, especially for Subtlety Rogues because Combo Point management is very important.

This ability transfers your existing Combo Points to your current target. Note that when you kill an enemy, your unused Combo Points remain on it, which means that they can be transferred through Redirect Icon Redirect. Moreover, your Combo Points on a dead enemy are removed when another enemy dies with unused Combo Points.

Redirect Icon Redirect is very useful in two situations:

  • when you switch target and want to start on your new target with the Combo Points you had on your previous target;
  • when you engage a boss and you want to start with as many Combo Points as possible (by transferring the Combo Points of the last trash mob that died).

5.7. Opening Sequence

  1. You should try and have Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice up (preferably with 5 Combo Points) before starting the fight. Use Redirect Icon Redirect and critical heals from your healers to achieve this.
  2. Enter Stealth — if you are pre-potting, it will get you out of Stealth, so pre-pot before entering Stealth.
  3. Use Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade on your Tricks of the Trade target (see next section).
  4. When the fight begins, use your Premeditation Icon Premeditation+Shadowstep Icon Shadowstep+Ambush Icon Ambush macro.
  5. Apply Rupture Icon Rupture with 5 Combo Points.
  6. Apply Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage.
  7. Start your rotation.

5.8. Tricks of the Trade

Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade was originally designed to be cast on tanks in order to help them keep aggro. With the changes that threat generation has undergone in WOTLK and Cataclysm, it is now more beneficial to your raid if you use Tricks of the Trade on one of the best DPS players in order to increase their damage done.

Note that you can (and most often should) cast Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade on the tank at the pull, before switching to a different target when refreshing it.

Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade costs you a Global Cooldown to cast (but no Energy, thanks to Glyph of Tricks of the Trade). The best time to refresh it is at 3 or 4 Combo Points, while you are waiting for Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves to grant you the last Combo Point(s).

Please refer to our Macros and Addons page for a Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade macro.

5.9. Tier 12 & 13 Sets

As a Subtlety Rogue, you should not use 4 pieces of the Tier 13 set, but rather 2 pieces of the Tier 12 set and at least 2 pieces of the Tier 13 set. This will provide you with the most DPS.

In this gear configuration, you will benefit from the Rogue Tier 13 Set 2-piece Bonus. To make good use of this set bonus, you need to line up your cooldowns in such a way that the Energy cost reduction granted by Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade always coincides with Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime.

5.10. I Find the Rotation Overwhelming

The rotation of a Subtlety Rogue can be overwhelming at first, especially when you come from a class that is, seemingly, easier to play (Arcane Mage, for example). This is even truer if you have low level gear.

This is normal, and you should learn the rotation step by step, practicing a simpler version of it and slowly adding all the elements.

For example, you can start without using cooldowns and by keeping Recuperate Icon Recuperate and Rupture Icon Rupture up. When you feel comfortable with your Energy management, you can add Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice and practice some more until you manage to keep everything up. After that, you can begin using Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade on cooldown. Finally, you can start planning for your cooldowns so that you make good use of Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness.

Eventually, as is the case for every class, the rotation will feel natural.

5.11. Defensive Cooldowns

As a Rogue, you have 4 defensive cooldowns that will often come in handy.

  • Combat Readiness Icon Combat Readiness and Evasion Icon Evasion are abilities that are more designed for questing or PvP, but if you happen to be the target of a boss or an add, you can use these abilities to significantly lower the damage you will take.
  • Feint Icon Feint is very useful (even more so with Enveloping Shadows Icon Enveloping Shadows and Glyph of Feint) to mitigate AoE damage; for example, you can easily soak Stomp Icon Stomp (LFR/10-man/25-man) damage during the encounter with Morchok in Dragon Soul.
  • Cloak of Shadows Icon Cloak of Shadows provides a temporary immunity against magical damage and harmful magical effects. Therefore, you can use it:
    • to remove harmful magical effects on you;
    • to ensure your survival and relieve some stress from your healers during periods of intense magical damage;
    • to bypass encounter mechanics that rely on magical damage.

5.12. Issues at Lower Gear Levels

At lower gear levels, Subtlety Rogues usually find it hard to properly maintain their rotation. This is explained by the following factors:

  • your melee haste is low:
    • your low level gear will provide you with little Haste Rating;
    • you will most likely be doing heroic dungeons to gear up, which makes it unlikely that someone in your party will provide the +5% haste buff;
  • you will not get the full benefit of having talented Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves, which works best in a raid environment (the more players in your group, the higher the chances Honor Among Thieves will grant you Combo Points).

These factors will prevent you from practicing efficiently on a Training Dummy, as you will have a lower Energy and Combo Point generation than if you were raiding.

5.13. Bosses That Cannot Be Attacked From Behind

Certain bosses cannot be attacked from behind, for example Ultraxion in Dragon Soul. This means that you need to use Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage, instead of Backstab Icon Backstab, to build Combo Points. You should also use a specific talent build (as we advise in our Build article) where you drop all the talents and glyphs that boost Backstab Icon Backstab and replace them with talents and glyphs that boost Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage and Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate.

On such bosses, you will not be able to have any Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime, due to your inability to use Ambush Icon Ambush.

If you have not acquired the Legendary Daggers yet, you can boost your DPS by equipping a 2.6 Agility Axe or Mace as your Main-hand weapon. Since you are unable to use Ambush Icon Ambush and Backstab Icon Backstab, there is no reason to stick with a Main-hand dagger.




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