NOTE (2/27):  The bug where Glyph of Vanish can provide extra Subterfuge buffs is back, so that is now a recommended DPS glyph. 

Subtlety is a resource management spec based on juggling several timers and short cooldowns.  Subtlety is paced somewhere in between Assassination and Combat with about 20% of GCDs unused.  Subtlety is often considered a more challenging spec with a number of mechanics that require precise execution.  Subtlety excels on fights with high regularity burst where it can exploit its primary Find Weakness mechanic.


Tier 15: Subterfuge

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Nightstalker– While extra damage on Ambush is nice, the biggest part of Ambush’s damage comes from Find Weakness and the extra Combo Point, which this does not buff.

Subterfuge– This allows us to use a second Ambush from stealth, increasing our Find Weakness uptime.  This talent tends to be slightly ahead of Shadow Focus and significantly ahead of Nightstalker.

Shadow Focus– Having Ambush cost only 15 energy is quite significant, although it is not quite worth the hit to Find Weakness uptime that you get by not taking Subterfuge.


Tier 30: Your Choice

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Deadly Throw- Useful as a ranged interrupt or in fights where you will be spending a lot of time at range such that you might overflow on Combo Points, however these situations are quite rare in today’s raiding scene.

Nerve Strike– Useful when dealing with big adds that can be stunned, although like the other talents in this tier, such situations are rare.

Combat Readiness- Good when taking steady, reasonably small amounts of physical damage.


Tier 45: Cheat Death

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Cheat Death- This is the most consistent talents on this tier as what amounts to an extra life is useful on all fights, which is why we suggest it.

Leeching Poiso– Generally considered our weakest survivability talent, this is still useful on fights where you will take continuous but not particularly threatening amounts of damage.  While this is the least likely to save you on its own, it can save you healers a lot of mana.

Elusiveness– This is very strong on encounters where you will be taking large amounts of damage and can predict when.  It is worth noting that this stacks multiplicatively with feint’s main effect, so your total AoE damage reduction will be 65%.  If you are not taking Cheat Death, this is probably the strongest option as when it does work it does a LOT.


Tier 60: Shadowstep

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Cloak and Dagger- This talent is pretty terrible, do yourself a favor and don’t use it.

Shadowstep– Widely considered our best mobility talent, teleporting behind a target is extremely useful for swapping to/from adds and getting into position for Backstabs.  Just make sure you don’t kill yourself with it and you’ll be fine.

Burst of Speed– Useful for fights that involve a lot of frequent movement, however the energy cost and the fact that we already have Sprint make this talent rarely worth it.


Tier 75: Your Choice

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Prey on the Weak– Extremely good for dealing with stunnable mobs that need to be killed by your raid.  Unfortunately, that situation almost never comes up.

Internal Bleeding

Dirty Tricks- This talent is just not useful in group PvE content.


Tier 90: Marked for Death / Anticipation

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Shuriken Toss– Only good in fights where you will be spending an inordinate amount of time at range, which in today’s raiding scene is quite rare.

Marked For Death– Our best talent for single target DPS as well as fights with periodic adds.  Using this on adds for the cooldown reset is ideal however if that is not possible than try to use it during Find Weakness.

Anticipation– Greatly simplifies the rotation by making wasted combo points a thing of the past.  This is our best talent for fights with important AoE and prolonged cleave as the talent will catch the extra Combo Points obtained through Empowered Fan of Knives.


Tier 100: Shadow Reflection

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Venom RushLemon Zest – Strong for fights with important AoE phases.

Shadow Reflection – Has great synergy with Shadow Dance.  This is our biggest DPS talent and can just be macro’d in with Shadow Dance.

Death from Above – As fancy as this talent is, Shadow Reflection’s synergy with Shadow Dance is currently too good to pass up.  If used well, it is about as good as Venom Rush on a single target.  NOTE:  There is some disagreement on this talent between ShadowCraft and SimulationCraft on how much of an impact this talent makes.  It is generally considered worse than Shadow Reflection currently, but the buffs slated for 6.1 might change this.



Damage Increasing Glyphs

Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins – Allows you to quickly apply Sanguinary Veins.  Extremely useful for fights with adds.

Glyph of Energy – Lets you pool more energy before using cooldowns, as well as waste less energy during prolonged periods of downtime.

Utility Glyphs

Glyph of Cloak of Shadows – Useful if you are taking infrequent, predictable, and heavy bursts of physical damage and don’t have anything better to Cloak.

Glyph of Feint – Similar to Glyph of Smoke Bomb, this is useful for fights with heavy sustained AoE damage where you will want to use Feint as soon as it expires.

Glyph of Deadly Momentum – Useful for fights involving adds that you have a high chance of dealing the killing blow on. 

Glyph of Smoke Bomb – Typically useful on fights with heavy sustained raid damage where Smoke Bomb will be useful for its entire duration.

Glyph of Sprint – An all-around solid choice, although our mobility is such that this is often unnecessary.

Minor Glyphs

Glyph of Safe Fall can be useful on fights with knock up mechanics.  It can be also be useful to defeat the deadly elevator boss in most raid instances.

Stats and Gearing

As a general rule, use whatever items have the most agility.  While it is tempting to give a straight stat priority for the secondary stats, their values change quite a bit depending on gear.  Instead, we suggest you go straight to the source of numbers and use ShadowCraft.  



The majority of this section assumes you are using Subtefuge (Tier 15 talent), Anticipation (Tier 90 talent), Shadow Reflection (Tier 100 talent), and Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins.  If you are not using any of these, check out the “Alternative Builds” subsection.  This guide also assumes 120 maximum energy, so keep in mind that pooling to 100 energy is not a suggestion to energy cap, but rather to pool as much energy as possible without capping.


The best lethal poison is Deadly Poison.  As for non-lethal poisons, if you are running Leeching Poison then use it, otherwise Crippling Poison is the only option.  It is worth noting that Crippling Poison is highly situational, while Deadly is completely essential.

Single Target

Opener:  Premeditation or Marked for Death > Prepot+Slice and Dice > Follow Your Heart

(If you have the tier 18 4-piece bonus, your heart should probably tell you to pop all cooldowns and go ham.)

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Subtlety’s opener is all about getting Find Weakness, Slice and Dice, and Sanguinary Veins started as soon as possible, which is why despite Garrote not actually doing damage it is our best opener. Keep in mind that Premeditation > Slice and Dice can (and probably should) be used slightly before the fight.  The opener is the only time you will want to clip Find Weakness, as Dancing during prepot, bloodlust, and trinket/enchant procs is huge.

Openers make up a tiny portion of your overall DPS and are very often in one of the least critical parts of the fight.  Generally speaking, as long as you are starting in Stealth and getting your Sanginary Veins, Find Weakness, and Slice and Dice up quickly you will be doing very close to optimal DPS.  While there are some people who enjoy fiddling around with SimulationCraft to create the perfect opener, the margins for these openers are extremely small to the point where you’d do better off to simply not mess up later in the fight.  The exception to all this is if you have the tier 18 four-piece bonus, which appears to make it beneficial to pop all cooldowns immediately in order to stack the damage buff.


Generators:  Ambush > Backstab Hemorrhage

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Ambush is by far your best CP generator, yielding both the most damage per energy and the most Combo Points per energy.  If it is time to use a generator and you can use Ambush, you should use Ambush.  When Ambush is not available use Backstab.  Hemorrhage should be used when facing the target and at high energy so as to avoid capping.  It can also be used for its bleed which combined with Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins adds redundancy to Sanguinary Veins.  Using Hemorrhage instead of Backstab to keep up the bleed has almost no effect on DPS and what little it theoretically does depends on gear.  At this point it should be noted that Sinister Calling, which causes your Backstab and Ambush multistrikes to speed up your bleeds by 2 seconds, does not actually have any impact on our optimal rotation.  Hemorrhage’s other use comes from Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins, as it is our quickest and cheapest way to apply Sanguinary Vein outside of Stealth.  This makes it exceptionally useful for target swapping.


Finishers:  Slice and Dice > Rupture Eviscerate

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Ignoring Sanguinary Veins, the damage you gain from Slice and Dice is far greater than the damage of either Rupture of Eviscerate, and therefore it should have 100% uptime.  However, with Rupture as the only source applying Sanguinary Vein to your target, it becomes much less clear which is better.  Thankfully, the Pandemic mechanic solves this by allowing us to refresh our buffs and debuffs when they only have 30% of their normal duration remaining.  This means a 5 Combo Point Slice and Dice can be refreshed as long as it has fewer than 12 seconds left in its duration, and a 5 Combo Point Rupture can be refreshed as long as it has fewer than 8 seconds left in its duration.  Because Backstab and Ambush multistrikes advance Rupture, it is usually best to refresh Rupture as early as possible without losing ticks.  If neither Rupture nor Slice and Dice need to be refreshed, then use Eviscerate as filler.  It should be noted that Eviscerate does less damage than Rupture even during Find Weakness, and as such the debuff does not change our finisher priority.


Cooldowns:  Shadow Reflection + Shadow Dance > Vanish, also there’s Preparation and Shadowmeld

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Before using any cooldown, make sure you pool energy as much as possible without capping.  This ensures you will be able to fit the most damage into the upcoming Find Weakness buff, as well as Spambush more.  Shadow Dance is by far our best Cooldown, and it should be used as close to on-cooldown as possible without clipping Find Weakness or having your target run off/die on you.  Because Ambush is great, Shadow Reflection should be used in conjunction with Shadow Dance.  After Shadow Dance comes Vanish on the priority list, which with Subterfuge is basically just Shadow Dance’s slightly disappointing cousin, complete with a longer cooldown, shorter duration, and more expensive Ambush.  At least it applies Master of Subtlety though, which is something Shadow Dance could never do.  During both of these cooldowns you’ll want to be trying to fit as many Ambushes as possible into them, making sure to both begin and end with an Ambush to maximize Find Weakness uptime.  You’ll also want to throw Premeditation somewhere in there if it is ready, although be careful not to use it when you have more than 3 Combo Points because it does not add Anticipation charges.  Preparation can be used to reset the cooldown of Vanish.  In short fights where you can only get one Preparation in, try to save it for Heroism.  For longer fights, try to use it early so you can get a second one in later.  For anyone playing a Night Elf, Shadowmeld can be used to get an extra Ambush.


Multiple Target

Subtlety has many different ways of dealing with the various types of multiple target scenarios we encounter.  Below is what we suggest for the most common situations, although it is important to use your best judgment in deciding how you should be doing damage.

AoE:  When dealing with large packs of mobs (5+) that all need to die, your best bet is to use Fan of Knives as your generator and replace Rupture/Eviscerate with Crimson Tempest.  Still keep up Slice and Dice.

Cleave:  In situations where you have 2-4 high priority targets that need to die, you should replace Backstab with Fan of Knives as the extra Combo Points it applies makes up for its weaker damage and the lack of Sinister Calling procs.  It is also optimal to spread Rupture to all targets and keep up Crimson Tempest for its bleed.  It should be noted that Crimson Tempest does not eclipse Rupture in this scenario.  Cooldowns should still be used as normal unless mechanics dictate otherwise, and during Find Weakness Eviscerate becomes better than Crimson Tempest against two targets, but not against three.  As always, keep up Slice and Dice.

Incidental Cleave:  This is the situation where Subtlety truly shines.  When dealing with an enemy with lots of health while surrounded by relatively low priority adds, your job as a Subtlety rogue is to abuse the Empowered Fan of Knives perk and pump out massive amounts of single target DPS into your foe all the while hoping that the hunter who is trying to kill the adds around you has a sudden attack of the sniffles and can no longer do their job.  Fan of Knives should completely replace Backstab while you do your single target rotation otherwise normally. At three targets it becomes optimal to use Ambush only for Find Weakness and fill the rest of your Shadow Dance with Fan of Knives.


Alternative Builds

Marked for Death:  Get the most uses out of this as possible, using it during Find Weakness when possible.  Also, try not to waste Combo Points.

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Marked for Death can be an incredibly powerful talent if used well.  In general, you should try to get the most uses out of it as possible.  This means using it against things that will die quickly whenever possible in order to reset the cooldown.  At times when you won’t be able to reset the cooldown any time soon, say in a phase with no adds, use this ability during Find Weakness for maximum benefit.  This is also a good way to get a Rupture or Slice and Dice reset quickly if you are at risk of having one drop off.  Because taking this means you won’t have access to Anticipation, you’ll have to put actual effort into not wasting Combo Points.  The best way to accomplish this is by not using generators at 4 Combo Points and instead letting Honor Among Thieves fill in the 5th.  It is better to use Eviscerate at 4 Combo Points than to overflow, so if it comes to a choice between using a 4 Combo Point finisher and sacrificing Find Weakness uptime or capping out on energy, the choice should be to take the 4 Combo Point finisher.


Death from Above:  Replace Eviscerate with this as much as possible.

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Death from Above does good damage, but not as much as Rupture or Slice and Dice.  If possible, use this on cooldown, but don’t sacrifice uptime on any of your buffs/debuffs for this.  Keep in mind that this takes about 2.5 seconds to complete, so using it near the end of Shadow Dance or Find Weakness is risky.


No Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins:  Make sure you get Sanguinary Veins up on adds as soon as possible, even if it means using a short-duration Rupture or even Crimson Tempest.  Also, don’t mess up with Rupture.

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Alternatively, you can never swap targets unless they are going to be there long enough for that Rupture you had ready to apply as soon as you got in range to be worth it.