Sub PvE Guide (4.3)

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I have a new and improved guide which you can find here:
I will still keep track of this one so feel free to comment here.

Please note that much of this information is taken from which uses ideal scenarios in their models. The info they provide is generally accurate, however it does not account for human error, which is where I come in. My personal takes on various matters is given.
Categories marked with * are on the third post.
Categories marked with ** are on the fourth post.

Special thanks to Kyrrion for all his contributions.

1. Overview
2. Terms
3. Talents/glyphs
4. Stat Priority
5. Reforging/Gems/Enchants/Poisons
6. Rotation*
7. Credits*
8. Best in Slot**
9. Opening**
10. Patch changes**
11. More Advanced Stuff (in progress)***
12. More More Advanced Stuff (in progress)****

Subtlety is currently one of the more difficult specs in the game, especially at low gear levels. While it does have the highest theoretical dps of any other rogue spec, it requires a nearly full uptime on the boss. Shadowstep does allow sub to have greater uptime than other melee, and HaT allows for CP generation while switching targets or running away from a boss. Critical to the spec is its rotation and many CDs which make it difficult to master though very rewarding. This guide is designed to tell you everything you need to know about playing subtlety so you can beat the hunter who just called you a baddie.

A Few Terms:
SS = Shadowstep
BS = Backstab
ShD = Shadow Dance
SnD = Slice and Dice
EA = Expose Armor
HaT = Honor Among Thieves
MoS = Master of Subtlety
FW = Find Weakness

The best build for pure dps is:
There are no filler points, though the weakest talent is Initiative, followed by Elusiveness.


Glyph of Slice and Dice – Required
Glyph of Backstab – Required
Glyph of Shadow Dance – Good, required if you’re using EA, have the 4 pc t11 bonus.
Glyph of Hemorrhage – Good if you will do lots of swapping, at high (ilvl 390?) gear levels using this in place of ShD is recommended, though only use hemo to keep the bleed up.
Glyph of Eviscerate – Decent.

Glyph of Tricks of the Trade – Raid DPS increase
Glyph of Feint – Use if they make you AoE

Your call


Here are the Elitist Jerks EP values, meaning how many points of Attack Power = 1 ___
T11 means Best-in-Slot gear from t11, t12 means BiS t12. This includes set bonuses, which in the case of T12 changed the EP a fair amount (see below).

Stat.......T11 EP.......T12.......T13
Yellow Hit..1.4........1.55.......1.8
Spell Hit....1.05.......1.1.........1.15
White Hit...0.8.........0.8.........0.9

These are approximations, and will change depending on current stat layout. These are also assuming a perfect fight, so the stats that will give you the best dps will likely be more rotation-oriented. Tier 13 best-in slot actually uses the T12 2-piece bonus, though Crit still looses its value relative to Expertise at higher gear levels.

Specifically, Expertise can be valued slightly above crit, since a dodged BS/evis can be detrimental to the rotation (though haste is still better than exp). Expertise also gains significant value if you need to face the boss (using hemo), which makes the spec slightly more linear from fight-to-fight. The t12 2 and especially 4 piece bonuses generally will push crit over exp in practice (which shows in the EP values for T12, which assume a 4-set)



In general, use the stat priority to reforge, keeping in mind your caps. If you are under the yellow hit cap, do whatever you can to reach it as closely as possible. Otherwise, anything without haste should have the weakest stat reforged to haste. For items with haste, generally reforge the second stat to expertise/crit. Crit is theoretically slightly better, to the point that it is worse with the 4-piece t11 bonus, so I generally reforge to expertise until cap (don’t worry if you cannot reach it, haste is still better).

Agility all the way. If there is a 20 agility bonus that can be attained by using a haste/agi gem, do that. For the meta, use Agile Shadowspirit Diamond. For enchants, use EP values, although the 25 agi+speed is generally better than +35 agi. For weps, use Landslide.

For poisons, use instant/deadly/wound, but for fights where DP will fall off often, go double wound.

This is the hardest part of playing subtlety, and will make or break you depending on the fight and your skill. This assumes you are attacking a boss or otherwise high-HP mob.
Addons that track buff/debuff durations are extremely helpful (I personally use sexycooldown)

If you have combo-points before the battle, use them on SnD.
Open with Premeditation/SS-> Ambush, then put up rupture (or SnD if it is not already up and there is no bleed on the target). Alternatively, if there is a bleed on the target and you have a AP or agi proc that such as Landslide or Fluid Death, it is a dps increase to use recuperate and then build up CP for a Rupture if you fit it in the Master of Subtlety window, since the buff from AP as well as the MoS buff will remain through refreshes.

Build combo-points with Backstab, always let HaT proc the 5th to ensure you don’t waste any combo-points while waiting for energy/GCD. Keep up the Hemo debuff if there is no other class who can, and use Hemo if not behind the enemy.

At around T13 you will want to use Glyph of Hemo. Use hemo only to refresh the bleed.

Finisher Priority:

SnD (Massive dps boost, can be refreshed before 5 CP) -> Rupture (Bleed, try to use this during the 10% bonus from MoS) -> Recup (Refresh with under 3 secs left. Required for rotation but less dps than SnD and keeping a MoS'd rupture is better in the long run. If MoS isn't on rupture and another bleed is up, this takes priority over rupture.) -> Eviscerate (5 CP only) -> EA (If there is not already an armor debuff, and if it will not hurt the rotation. If you include this, use the glyph and apply it during periods of excess CP.)

Always pool energy before refreshing an ability until just before HaT is about to proc an excess CP, or unless an ability has/will completely fade. This allows for a shorter period between the next refresh, helping to smooth out the rotation.

If I have 5 CP and SnD and another buff/debuff is fading I usually refresh the debuff and use SnD asap after it fades, though this might not be a dps increase unless there are at least 2ish secs on SnD after the other ability is refreshed.

Vanish roughly on-cooldown to refresh FW and MoS. Pool energy and dump CP before vanishing for max benefit. (Note: This can also be used for fast CP, so saving this or prep for this purpose may be best if you are prone to rotational issues.) Always wait for FW to be down before using this, as overlapping a FW buff is a major dps loss, unless it has almost no time left before the refresh. It is also best to wait for Prem and SS to be ready, as the time spent waiting is generally made up by the damage gained by those. The same principle applies with waiting for Tricks of Time (T13 2pc bonus). If SS needs to be used for mobility, it may be better to vanish on CD depending on the remaining CDs of the other abilities. To maximize FW effectiveness you want to fit the most eviscerates as possible into the stage without hurting your rotation, so check SnD and Recup durations accordingly before vanishing.

ShD follows the same rules as vanish, although SS/prem only need to be up for one of the Ambushes. Basically replace backstab with ambush, and only use SS after FW is up. I usually save Prem for after my first finisher to minimize wasted CP. Also wait to use your last ambush until just before ShD expires to maximize FW. See more advanced stuff for other optimizations in ShD.

Use SS for general mobility, just don't be stupid with it. You can dodge tail-swipes, so use evasion to allow SS in your ShD phase, or wait until one just went off before using SS.

Burn Phase/Preparation: Generally use this in a burn phase, during Lust/Heroism/fakeversions, follow all the rules laid out in the vanish part unless otherwise mentioned.
Use Vanish->SS->Ambush, then prep (to refresh SS CD, and vanish). After FW is nearly up, use ShD. Try to time it so your first ambush is with FW barely up, but DON’T use SS with it. Once the ShD FW is about to expire, use vanish->SS->Ambush.
Best Way to Open
This is only at the very beginning of any fight.

Open like normal (Shadowstep > Premeditation > Ambush) and go with the standard rotation until Shadowstep comes off CD. When it does come off CD, Vanish into Premed + Ambush but do NOT use Shadowstep with the Ambush! Use it after the Ambush hits and use Preparation after you hit Shadowstep. You now have the 10 second buff to your next Ambush, Shadowstep off cooldown, and Find Weakness on your target. Right before Find Weakness falls off, hit Shadowdance and proceed as normal (saving the Shadowstep for the 2nd Ambush). This way an extra Shadowstepped Ambush under Find Weakness.

To simplify:
Vanish > Premed + Ambush > Wait until Find Weakness is close to expiring > Shadowstep > Preparation > Standard Shadowdance (where you still Shadowstep the 2nd Ambush).
More Advanced Stuff (in progress):

This is an amalgamation of various little things that are all useful, though not necessary to play sub at 99% effectiveness. Basically, these should help you squeeze the last bit of DPS out of your rogue. This also includes dealing with set bonuses.

Rotational intricacies:

Refresh Rupture as late as possible:
As long as you are not about to energy cap, using Eviscerate to refresh Rupture just before HaT will give you an extra CP means you will potentially let another tick occur before the refresh. This not only gives you the damage gained from that tick, but also means Rupture will have a longer total duration after the refresh, giving you more time to manage the other finishers. You may also note that rupture ticks every 2 secs (same as HaT), so after the first Rupture tick after you get 5 CP (IF the 5th is from HaT) you should refresh. If you get 5 CP using an ability, then that should be because you had too much energy, and as such you should refresh ASAP because you don't want to cap, the damage gained is minimal, and you don't want to get an HaT proc before you refresh.

Get 2 CP before you use ShD (conditions!):
This assumes you have a minimal duration HaT (no glyph or set bonus). Also, you must have Prem ready during the ShD. If this is the case, your ShD should look like:
Ambush, Evisc, Prem/SS/Ambush, Evisc, Ambush, Ambush(?).
The key to this is that you will have 2 ambushes at the end of your rotation. This means even if you don't get the last one in (didn't pool enough energy, latency got in the way...) you will still have ended with an ambush, meaning you will still have close to the max duration on FW. If you get both ambushes at the end in, you will get max duration.

If you are using glyph of ambush or have the set bonus, you should probably do the same as before but tack on an Evisc and another Ambush at the end, however if you can't get enough energy for this to work, you might have to start with 0 CP, making the 7th ability (8 are possible with unlimited energy and no lag) the second Ambush. If you do this, you should make sure to wait until ShD is about to fade before using the ambush.

Waiting to Hemo:

I have not done the math, however if you are using a soft hemo build then it may be worth it to not refresh hemo as soon as possible if a CD that gives FW is ready, since the damage gained from FW (and potentially MoS) will increase the damage done by more than the few ticks lost by waiting. This also applies to refreshing the debuff early if FW is about to fade. Again though, I have NOT done any math on this. It is on my to-do-but-may-never-if-I-get-lots-of-work list.

Set Bonuses, Raid Mechanics, and other Obscurities

T13 2pc usage

This reduces the energy cost of your abilities by a set percentage when you use Tricks of the Trade. The best use for this is probably right before you use ShD, and then once it comes off CD. By using it before ShD you will have a much greater chance of getting in the maximum amount of abilities during the buff. It may be best to use Vanish on the 30 sec mark (right after you Tricks), because you will get more abilities in FW, and it also ensures that SS (and Prem) are up.

You want to have enough energy so that you will be able to use abilities every second of the buff (though don't feel obliged to, not wasting CP is more important), while making sure that you will not energy cap.
Set Bonuses, Raid Mechanics, and other Obscurities (Cont.)

T13 4pc or t12 2pc?

The below paragraph paraphrased from the theorycrafters at Elitistjerks, using the spreadsheet (which you should all know about and use, even though it isn't great at modeling sub, it is by far the best thing we have) Shadowcraft (

Depending on gear, it can be better to use the t12 2pc bonus (Gloves/Legs are suggested) rather than get the 4pc t13. This is because Sub generally likes crit a lot, the set bonus is just that good, and our 4pc is pretty disappointing. Also, upgrading from normal t12 to Heroic t13 would probably be an upgrade under all circumstances. Use Shadowcraft for your gear set!

The truth is a bit more complex. First, this DOES depend on gear. I just reached the point where (btw this is all according to Shadowcraft (from now on ShC)) Exp = Crit, which has led me to reforge for Expertise. With that, my Crit has plummeted, causing ShC to value the 4pc above the 2pc. As I get better gear, the 2pc will get better, theoretically surpassing the 4pc.

However, Aldriana (one of the most respected theorycrafters) admitted that the synergy between the t13 2 and 4 pc bonuses is not well modeled in Shadowcraft, which would slightly increase the value of going with the 4pc (though only by a bit overall). What favors the 4pc even more is that it increases your burst damage, so on fights where the boss takes increase damage for a period (Hagara), or there is a critical burn phase (Spine of Deathwing), or even a lot of downtime in which the 2pc is useless but the CD is still resetting (Madness of Deathwing), getting the 4pc could be better in practice. Whether or not you should get the 2pc or the 4pc will depend on gear and whatever fight you are working on.

Find Weakness Damage Bonus:
Full Armor: 28.26% increase
12% Reduced Armor: 25.24% increase
This goes by the armor formulas (courtesy to Aldriana for doing the math and getting the right ones), and I verified them earlier with my own tests (page 26)

General credit to, (
Also thanks to the readers, especially Kyrrion. Without you all this would be a far worse guide.
02/15/2011 06:44 PMPosted by Érebus
Though, can Sub really compete in DPS, consistently?

EDIT: This response is out of date, as is anything under it.

Not really. The reason for playing it is mostly because you like it, and have the gear to pull decend dps and sustain the rotation compared to those you play with.

That said, in certain fights it will excel, for instance, Halfus in BoT, assuming your on kicking duty. The 100% uptime behind the boss should mean you will do more dps than any other rogue spec. (I have read this on EJ from Adriana and have had higher dps peaks on heroic bosses than I had as mut, though that could be partially due to better CDs as sub). Magmaw (first boss of BWD if I got the wrong name) would also be a good fight for a rogue assuming the tank is positioning the boss in a way that you can be behind the boss (each of you near edge). Just don't use shadowstep...

EDIT: Sub also is useful in encounters with high raid damage, due to recup being part of the rotation, and Enveloping Shadows (if you pick it up). In general though, it would be more of an offspec as far as pure optimality in a raid environment goes.
02/15/2011 4:20 PMPosted by Haileaus
Also want to say that I'm pretty sure Glyph of Shadowdance > Eviscerate.

Good call. On EJ it says they are about equal, but since they use near-BiS gear, the haste would mean more eviscerates than most people. Considering majority (ok, all) of sub rogues are not doing heroic raids, ShD likely has an edge. Thanks!

That 4 finisher amount was being fairly generous (On average you will be seeing a 5 point finisher every 6 seconds, possibly 5 seconds with a good amount of haste and 4 if heroism is up). You'd need 160% haste (this is counting the base of 10 + 4 energy regen from recuperate) in order to consistently shoot a 5point finisher every 4 seconds (2 points from HaT, and 3 backstabs from the 120 energy regained).

It also takes a lot of haste to actually get one more finisher as 1% haste is .1 energy per second, taking 400 seconds to get one backstab. And the more haste you get, you can also squeeze in more Ambushes within Shadowdance, making the glyph even more valuable than Eviscerate's.
Yeah I'm not exactly sure where EJ got that data. It is probably due to insufficient time spent on optimizing sub pve.
02/16/2011 10:15 AMPosted by Haileaus
Yeah I'm not exactly sure where EJ got that data. It is probably due to insufficient time spent on optimizing sub pve.

Yeah, I don't even think they care that much. So I guess I'm still gonna do the work myself and see what happens lol
Yeah, I don't even think they care that much. So I guess I'm still gonna do the work myself and see what happens lol

That's part of the reason I wrote this. The other part was boredom lol. Anyway if you come up with any data that is contrary to what I wrote here, or would add to the guide, posting it would be a big help.
Just realized that a longer ShD means more time on FW, which would translate to a dps increase. Also using ambush instead of Backstab is only a minor damage increase with the patch so the damage you are getting from ambush is likely considerably less than those of eviscerate. Still, ShD seems like it would be superior.
This guide is freaking awesome. Thanks so much!! Implement these changes and your DPS will skyrocket, take my word.
02/16/2011 10:42 AMPosted by Haileaus
Just realized that a longer ShD means more time on FW, which would translate to a dps increase. Also using ambush instead of Backstab is only a minor damage increase with the patch so the damage you are getting from ambush is likely considerably less than those of eviscerate. Still, ShD seems like it would be superior.

Thought the whole point of using ambush in ShD was for the increased rate of combo point generation. You'd go Ambush, Ambush-> finisher instead of BSx4 + HAT-> finisher. It's even in the copied stuff from EJ you got.

02/14/2011 4:07 PMPosted by Haileaus
Also, backstab may do slightly more damage, although the CP generation of ambush makes it superior.

But yeah, awesome work dude. Gives me hope for 85.
Another note- Backstab criticals may hit harder than Ambush, but until you start getting around 30% crit (haven't done exact measurements), the 60% crit bonus to Ambush provides a higher average (key word) dps than Backstab.
02/16/2011 9:12 PMPosted by Pikawho
measurements. How tall or how high?

About a freckle past a hair tall.

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