I Ain’t Afraid o’ No Sub – or how I learned to stop worrying and love Subtlety

A few weeks ago, in a conversation between Fierydemise, Haileaus, and myself, Fierydemise posited that the single best thing that an Assassination rogue could do for his/her raid team would be to forget optimizing and instead take that time to learn Subtlety. He suggested that the half hour that might be spent on messing with gems and enchantments would be better spent reading up on Subtlety and switching specs. Haileaus and I were both a little dubious on this and felt that there would be a bit of a learning curve to Subtlety that might cancel out any advantage. We all agreed that to only way to know for sure would be to test. Since I just don’t do Subtlety, I volunteered to lab rat.

What I did:
I switched my Assassination spec to Subtlety. I spent exactly half an hour prepping. And then I went to raid. It was an interesting and humbling experience and my conclusion is, much to my surprise, that we are really both right. I do think that there is enough to Fierydemise’s theory that I, an Assassination-lifer, will keep the Subtlety spec for now at least.

Weeee 26k!

Was I perfect? Heck no! I’d been doing this for less than an hour, including setup time.

The Details:

  • I carefully did no research or reading on Subtlety prior to this so all I knew was what was in my memory from trying it back in Cataclysm – which is to say, nothing useful.
  • At 6:02 pm I went to the trainer and switched to Subtlety.
  • I went to Wowhead and read over the Subtlety rotation section of the very pretty rogue guide.
  • I then went to the Ravenholdt guide for Talents, Glyphs, multi-target rotation, and all of the finer details.
  • I set up my bars.
  • I set up a few macros (eg. macroing Shadow Reflection to Shadow Dance).
  • I went to the training dummies just to make sure that my buttons were in usable places and that I hadn’t forgotten any.
  • I did not touch my gear. My main gear was currently optimized for Combat and I switched out a few pieces when I went to Assassination – so it was a sort of hybrid setup. I had a two piece but not a four piece set.
  • I did not touch my addons. I do run SliceCommander and it was already set up to track Slice and Dice and Rupture.
  • At 6:32 I stopped messing with my spec. I even switched back to Combat to do my mine, and slaughtered the wee beasties with gleeful Killing Sprees so that I would have no additional practice or time to absorb what buttons were where.
  • At 8:00 I went to raid. We did Heroic Hans’gar and Franzok (1 attempt as Subtlety then switched to Combat for the kill), Gruul, and Oregorger.

The Subtlety rotation is a whole lot less complicated than I was expecting. Significantly so. I realized that I had been pretty intimidated by it – and needlessly. I was remembering the last time I tried it, when Shadow Dance was a separate stance and the bars were a pain in the …neck to set up.

The positional requirement for Backstab is annoying – especially since I’m out of practice taking that into consideration. It’s not that bad on most bosses, but on trash when the mobs are all milling about any which way or on Hans’gar and Franzok when the bosses are bouncing around like jumping beans, it’s seriously inconvenient.

Much to my surprise, the Backstab icon being the same as the Dispatch icon really bugged me. A couple of times my brain actually hesitated and said, “No you idiot, don’t Dispatch now!” Apparently I’m really visually oriented. Who knew!

Hans’gar and Franzok: the rotation wasn’t bad but I found it a bit difficult to concentrate on a brand new (to me) rotation with all the movement. Knowing that the boss is fine for all three specs, I switched to Combat after we wiped.
Gruul: I had no trouble pulling top dps early on. It fell off a bit over time as movement increased but I really feel that with a bit of practice I can kick butt as Subtlety on this boss.
Oregorger: same impression as Gruul.

The Takeaway:
Subtlety has a bad reputation for being complex and difficult to master. My experience suggested that it is no more difficult than either Assassination or Combat. With all three specs the mastery is in the timing. Getting Subtlety’s subtleties right is probably no more difficult than controlling Insight optimally is for Combat.

Overall, yes, I think Fierydemise is right. I am surprised and happy to admit that my reservations were unfounded. I do think that Haileaus and I were correct in that it will take a bit more practice to see a really significant difference and to get comfortable with more movement while maintaining numbers – but it really was less of a big deal than I was expecting. With a little more practice, it will be a significant improvement. If anyone is thinking about making the switch, I’d maintain that Subtlety is no more complicated than Combat. It takes a little bit more focus between the positional requirement and no coffee break while you Killing Spree, but it is a not a stretch at all.

If you are on the fence about trying Subtlety, I say go for it. If I can do it, you can do it.