Subtlety Rogue DPS Rotation, Cooldowns, and Abilities (WoW MoP 5.4)

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Subtlety Rogue Art Image
General Information

On this page, we list your Subtlety Rogue core abilities and how they should be used together (rotation) in World of Warcraft MoP 5.4. We also explain when to use your various cooldowns. Then, we go deeper and present all the subtleties that you will need to know if you want to excel at playing a Subtlety Rogue.

The other pages of our Subtlety Rogue guide can be accessed from the table of contents on the right.

About Our Reviewer

This guide has been reviewed and approved by Dryaan, one of the best Rogues in the world, who raids in Envy. You can watch his stream on Twitch.

1. Single Target Rotation↑top

  • Combo Point builders (by order of priority)
    1. Use Ambush Icon Ambush when you are in Stealth.
    2. Use Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage to apply and maintain the bleed effect it causes on your target.
      • Reapply Hemorrhage after the bleed effect ends.
    3. Use Backstab Icon Backstab as your default Combo Point builder.
    4. When you cannot attack your target from behind, then you cannot use Backstab Icon Backstab, so Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage becomes your primary Combo Point builder.
  • Finishing Moves (by order of priority)
    1. Apply and maintain Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice, with 5 Combo Points preferably:
      • always refresh Slice and Dice when there are between 0 and 2 seconds remaining.
    2. Apply and maintain Rupture Icon Rupture with 5 Combo Points.
    3. Use Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate with 5 Combo Points.

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

2. Multiple Target Rotation↑top

When fighting 2 or 3 enemies, simply keep doing your single-target rotation on one of them. If you have to often swap target or if you need to burn an add fast, then you can use Glyph of Hemorraghing Veins Icon Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins, this will save you the trouble of having to apply Rupture Icon Rupture.

When fighting 4, 5, or 6 enemies, you should sometimes replace Eviscerate Icon Eviscerate with Crimson Tempest Icon Crimson Tempest in your rotation. The idea is to keep the 12-second bleed effect, from Crimson Tempest, applied on the enemies. Note that Crimson Tempest Icon Crimson Tempest causes you to benefit from Sanguinary Vein Icon Sanguinary Vein, so you no longer need to apply and refresh Rupture Icon Rupture. You can first apply Crimson Tempest with 1 Combo Point to benefit from Sanguinary Vein right away (the Crimson Tempest bleed always lasts 12 seconds, regardless of Combo Points).

When fighting 7 or more enemies, you should abandon your single-target rotation and spam Fan of Knives Icon Fan of Knives instead. When you reach 5 Combo Points on your target, use them to keep Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice up or to cast Crimson Tempest Icon Crimson Tempest.

If your main target will die in less than 1 minute and you have chosen Marked for Death Icon Marked for Death as your Tier 6 talent, then use it on cooldown.

3. Poisons↑top

Your Lethal Poison should always be Deadly Poison Icon Deadly Poison.

Your Non-Lethal Poison depends on the encounter.

4. Cooldowns↑top

You have four main DPS cooldowns.

  • Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance enables you to cast your Stealth-only abilities for 8 seconds. While active, this ability also reduces the Energy cost of Ambush Icon Ambush by 20. This ability only has a 1-minute cooldown, so you should use it whenever it is available.
  • Shadow Blades Icon Shadow Blades increases your Combo Point regeneration for 12 seconds, on a 3-minute cooldown. Use this ability whenever you can.
  • Vanish Icon Vanish makes you enter Stealth. Use this ability on cooldown, immediately followed by 1 or 2 casts of Ambush Icon Ambush (depending on whether Subterfuge Icon Subterfuge is your tier 1 talent). Proper usage of Vanish greatly increases your Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime (not to mention that you can reset its cooldown with Preparation Icon Preparation). If Rupture Icon Rupture is about to expire, you can apply Garrote Icon Garrote after breaking out of Stealth (thanks to Subterfuge Icon Subterfuge); this will make you benefit from Sanguinary Vein Icon Sanguinary Vein for 18 seconds (during which time you do not need to apply or refresh Rupture Icon Rupture).
  • Premeditation Icon Premeditation adds two Combo Points on the target, but it can only be used while in Stealth, which means that you will have to use it at the pull, when you use Vanish Icon Vanish and whenever you use Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance.

In addition to those, you have a few minor DPS and utility cooldowns.

  • Redirect Icon Redirect is a DPS gain in fights where you have to fight different enemies. See our Redirect section for more details.
  • Sprint Icon Sprint (in addition to its obvious survival role) can give you more uptime on the boss, which translates into a direct DPS increase. So, you can use Sprint as a DPS cooldown in some fights. Its cooldown can be reset with Preparation Icon Preparation.

Finally, you have a number of survival cooldowns, such as Feint Icon Feint, Cloak of Shadows Icon Cloak of Shadows, Preparation Icon Preparation, Evasion Icon Evasion, etc., which you can use to keep yourself alive. See our section about survival cooldowns for more information.

5. Optional Read: Mastering Your Subtlety Rogue↑top

The Subtlety specialisation is not very hard to play, and 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.

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 Relentless Strikes Icon Relentless Strikes passive ability, which grants your Finishing Moves a 20% chance per Combo Point to restore 25 Energy;
  • your Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice ability, which restores 8 Energy every 2 seconds (thanks to Energetic Recovery Icon Energetic Recovery, one of your passive abilities).

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

You should never let your Energy reach its maximum. This a DPS loss, as you are wasting every Energy point generated during this time.

Some abilities add one or several Combo Points on your target, up to a maximum of 5 Combo Points (10 with Anticipation Icon Anticipation). Other abilities, called Finishing Moves, consume up to 5 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, a passive ability that grants you 1 Combo Point every time you or an another raid/party member scores a critical hit with a spell or an ability (with a limit of 1 Combo Point every 2 seconds).

You should never cap Combo Points (i.e., reach 5 stacks of Anticipation Icon Anticipation) for more than 1 second after the last proc of Honor Among Thieves Icon Honor Among Thieves. Similarly, you should never use Backstab Icon Backstab or Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage at 4 or 5 stacks of Anticipation Icon Anticipation. Capping Combo Points means that you run the risk of wasting Combo Points generated either by Honor Among Thieves or by Backstak and Hemorrhage.

Anticipation Icon Anticipation can also be used to improve your DPS slightly. By keeping a high amount of Anticipation stacks where there is no damage increase (i.e., periods of time without Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime, without trinket procs, etc.), you have extra Combo Points to spend whenever you enter a period of increased damage done. Also, it can help you refresh Slice and Dice Icon Slice and Dice and Rupture Icon Rupture if they are going to expire at the same time.

5.2. 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 passive ability 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). This effect only procs from spells and abilities (but not from white melee attacks) and is only active while you are in combat.

Before Mists of Pandaria, Subtlety Rogues had to take Honor Among Thieves into account in their resource management (in order to prevent the extra Combo Points generated from going to waste). Thanks to the introduction of Anticipation Icon Anticipation, it has become much harder to waste these Combo Points and this is why this talent is so valuable for Subtlety Rogues.

5.3. Find Weakness and Master of Subtlety

Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness is the most important thing to keep in mind when playing a Subtlety Rogue. This temporary damage increase is only available after using Ambush Icon Ambush, Garrote Icon Garrote, or Cheap Shot Icon Cheap Shot. These abilities require Stealth to be cast so you will have Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime at the pull, every time you use Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance and every time you use Vanish Icon Vanish (the cooldown of which you can reset with Preparation Icon Preparation).

Master of Subtlety Icon Master of Subtlety is a passive ability that 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.

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 Rupture Icon Rupture (which does not benefit from Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness) while these cooldowns are active. 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.

Finally, one last trick can be used when Vanish Icon Vanish and Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance come off cooldown at the same time. Use Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance first. After Shadow Dance expires, you will still benefit from the Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness given by the last Ambush Icon Ambush you cast during Shadow Dance. Wait for that Find Weakness to have about 1 second left on its duration. Then, cast Vanish Icon Vanish+Ambush Icon Ambush. This will cause Ambush to benefit from the Find Weakness that was about to expire and to apply a new Find Weakness.

5.4. Hemorrhage Weaving

It is a small DPS increase to keep the Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage bleed on your target, but you should wait until it has dropped from the target before refreshing it. It should also be noted that this bleed highly relies on the initial damage of Hemorrhage, so it may be better to delay it for a few seconds if you are about to gain Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness or another damage increase. For similar reasons, you can also refresh Hemorrhage Icon Hemorrhage early if you benefit from a large increase in your damage done.

5.5. Rupture and Sanguinary Vein

Sanguinary Vein Icon Sanguinary Vein is a passive ability that increases the damage of your Rupture Icon Rupture ability by 50% and that causes you to deal 35% increased damage to enemies afflicted by Rupture Icon Rupture, Garrote Icon Garrote, or Crimson Tempest Icon Crimson Tempest (your AoE Finishing Move).

The most obvious implication of having this passive ability is that Rupture Icon Rupture should always be on the target, so that you always deal 20% increased damage. If Garrote Icon Garrote or Crimson Tempest Icon Crimson Tempest are already on the target, then you do not need to apply Rupture Icon Rupture.

Another, less obvious implication is that you can use Garrote Icon Garrote for breaking out of Stealth at the pull. This will instantly grant you a 18-second duration on Sanguinary Vein Icon Sanguinary Vein (and during this time, you do not need to apply or refresh Rupture Icon Rupture).

5.6. Find Weakness and Shadow Blades

As a general rule, avoid using Shadow Blades Icon Shadow Blades when Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness is up. The reason for that is that part of Shadow Blades Icon Shadow Blades will be wasted, as your auto-attacks bypass 100% of your enemy's armor during Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness (so them dealing pure Shadow damage would not be an improvement). As a result, you want to avoid casting Shadow Blades and Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance at the same time.

An exception to this rule is when casting Shadow Blades during Find Weakness would enable you cast Shadow Blades more times during the encounter.

When you have the Item - Rogue T15 4P Bonus Icon Rogue T15 4P Bonus, you should always cast Shadow Blades Icon Shadow Blades and Shadow Dance Icon Shadow Dance at the same time. This set bonus reduces the cost of all abilities by 15% and reduces the Global Cooldown of your abilities by 0.3s. The combination of the set bonus and the additional Combo Points you get from some of your abilities during Shadow Blades Icon Shadow Blades is so powerful that it more than outweighs wasting part of Shadow Blades during Shadow Dance.

5.7. 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.

5.8. Opening Sequence

In this section, we assume that you took Subterfuge Icon Subterfuge as your Tier 1 talent.

  1. Before the pull, use Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade on your Tricks of the Trade target (see next section).
  2. 1 second before the pull, use your Virmen's Bite Icon Virmen's Bite potion and get in Stealth.
  3. When the boss is pulled:
    • Shadowstep Icon Shadowstep it if the boss is far away, if you have picked this talent, and if you will not need it in the next 24 seconds;
    • Sprint Icon Sprint to reach the boss if it is far away and you cannot use Shadowstep;
    • otherwise, simply run to the boss and continue your opening sequence.
  4. Cast Garrote Icon Garrote.
  5. Cast Ambush Icon Ambush as many times as possible (usually twice).
    • It should be possible thanks to Energetic Recovery and Subterfuge Icon Subterfuge.
    • Extra Combo Points will be stored, thanks to Anticipation Icon Anticipation.
  6. Continue with your normal rotation, with the following tweaks:

5.9. Using Redirect

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

Redirect Icon Redirect helps with target swapping because it transfers your existing Combo Points to your new target.

Also, when an enemy dies, your unused Combo Points remain on it, which means that you can transfer them through Redirect Icon Redirect. This is very useful for transferring Combo Points from a dead trash mob to the boss prior to the pull.

5.10. 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. Indeed, Tricks of the Trade provides a 15% DPS increase on its target for 6 seconds, on a 30-second cooldown.

Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade costs 15 Energy to cast, but is not on the Global Cooldown. The damage bonus that it grants to your target is so beneficial to your raid that you should never refrain from sacrificing 15 Energy for it. Glyph of Tricks of the Trade Icon Glyph of Tricks of the Trade should never be used, as it removes the damage increase. Regarding usage of Tricks of the Trade, you should always cast it on cooldown, unless your target asks for it to be slightly delayed (to line it up with cooldowns, for example).

Since Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade is off the global cooldown, you should cast it whenever you need to refresh it on your target. Assassination and Combat Rogues can use Tricks of the Trade together with Vanish Icon Vanish (because of Shadow Focus Icon Shadow Focus), but that is not the case for you, as a Subtlety Rogue. You can also cast it on the tank before the pull, as you have a 20-second window to make your first attack and proc its effect (which will increase the threat generation of the tank). After the pull, you should start using Tricks of the Trade on a DPS player.

Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade does not stack with itself: someone getting two Tricks of the Trade simultaneously from two Rogues will only benefit from one and the second one will be wasted.

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

5.10.1. Picking your Tricks of the Trade Target

There are a few things to know in order to properly pick your main Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade target.

  • Avoid players that rely on their pet's DPS, such as Frost Mages or Beast Mastery Hunters.
  • Avoid players that massively rely on DoTs, such as Warlocks or Balance/Feral Druids.
  • Avoid players that have damage-increasing buffs, such as Retribution Paladins, Arcane Mages, or Warriors. Tricks of the Trade does not stack with those buffs.
  • Prefer players with a relatively constant damage output, such as Rogues.

Our advice is to have a main Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade target that your casts will default to and a secondary target that can sometimes ask you to buff them before they are about to do a lot of burst damage (e.g., at the beginning of the fight).

5.11. Survival Cooldowns

One of the greatest strengths of Rogues is their survivability, which they owe to a large number of powerful survival cooldowns.

  • Feint Icon Feint (with Glyph of Feint Icon Glyph of Feint) reduces your damage taken from AoE attacks by 50% for 7 seconds. With the Tier 3 talent Elusiveness Icon Elusiveness, damage taken from AoE attacks is reduced by 65% and damage taken from all other types of damage attacks is reduced by 30%. Feint has a very low Energy cost and has no cooldown, which makes it your primary survival tool (as you can use it whenever you need).
  • Cloak of Shadows Icon Cloak of Shadows removes all harmful spell effects on you and makes you resist all spells for 5 seconds, on a 1-minute cooldown. This 5-second window consists of 2 seconds of immunity against spells (both damage and application of harmful effects) followed by 3 seconds during which spells will miss you. Some fight mechanics can only be bypassed during the first two seconds (e.g., Ionization Icon Ionization against Jin'rokh the Breaker in Heroic mode).
  • Evasion Icon Evasion increases your dodge chance by 100% for 10 seconds, on a 2-minute cooldown. It should be used whenever you receive physical damage that can be dodged (e.g., Ji-Kun's Quills Icon Quills or Sha of Fear's Death Blossom Icon Death Blossom) or when you have to tank an add. The cooldown of Evasion Icon Evasion can be reset with Preparation Icon Preparation.
  • Combat Readiness Icon Combat Readiness causes you to take 50% less damage from melee attacks. The damage reduction builds up gradually by stacks of 10%, until you have 5 stacks. Each enemy hit grants you a stack. The effect lasts 20 seconds, but it is removed after 10 seconds without receiving melee attacks.
  • Growl Icon Growl (given by Druids through Symbiosis Icon Symbiosis) increases your armor by 330%, your stamina by 20% and renders you immune to critical attacks for 30 seconds, on a 3-minutes cooldown. In addition, it makes you taunt your target, but this effect rarely works against raid bosses.
  • Smoke Bomb Icon Smoke Bomb reduces damage taken by your raid by 20% on a 8 yard radius during 5 seconds (7 seconds with Glyph of Smoke Bomb Icon Glyph of Smoke Bomb). It is the only raid cooldown you have. You can use Smoke Bomb to force ranged enemies to come to melee range or to prevent those inside the smoke to be targeted by mechanics.

5.12. 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.

On such bosses, you will gain Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness uptime by using Garrote Icon Garrote to break out of Stealth. This ability, unlike Backstab Icon Backstab has no positioning requirement.

Finally, there is no reason for you to stick with a Dagger in your Main-Hand slot, as you cannot use Backstab Icon Backstab. So, if you have a 2.6-speed weapon that is better than your current Dagger, then equip it.

6. Changelog↑top

  • 26 Sep. 2013: Updated Sanguinary Vein description. It now increases damage of some abilities by 35% (up from 25%). Change was made in a recent hotfix.
  • 13 Sep. 2013: Improved Tricks of the Trade Icon Tricks of the Trade section and clarified explanations regarding 2.6-speed weapons for bosses that cannot be attacked from behind.
  • 10 Sep. 2013: Patch 5.4 update.
    • Evasion Icon Evasion now lasts 10 seconds (down from 15), its effectiveness is 100% (up from 50%), and its cooldown is 2 minutes (down from 3).
    • Shadow Blades Icon Shadow Blades now reduces the cost of all abilities by 15% (down from 40%) when you have the Tier 15 4-piece Bonus.
    • Glyph of Hemorraghing Veins Icon Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins makes it easier to fight against a few targets when you have to burn them down or when you have to frequently change target.
  • 20 May 2013: Patch 5.3 update: nothing to change (Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness update has no bearing on gameplay).
  • 20 May 2013: Dryaan's second review of the guide.
    • Numerous improvements to nearly all the sections of the guides (rotations, poisons, Energy, Find Weakness, Sanguinary Vein, etc.)
  • 19 Mar. 2013: Added a section on the interaction between Shadow Blades Icon Shadow Blades and Find Weakness Icon Find Weakness.
  • 19 Mar. 2013: Improved opening sequence and removed sub-optimal variations.
  • 11 Mar. 2013: Patch 5.2 update.
    • Updated mention of Preparation Icon Preparation being a Tier 4 talent (it is now baseline).
    • Added a mention of Marked for Death Icon Marked for Death in the multiple-target rotation section.
    • Updated damage increase provided by Sanguinary Vein Icon Sanguinary Vein (it is now 16%, was 20%).