Hail's Guide to Sub PvE (5.4)

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This guide should tell you everything you need to know about Sub PvE in 5.4. Unfortunately, it is no longer 5.4! Check out ravenholdt.net/index.php/guides/subtlety for the most up-to-date guide on the internet.


1. Getting Ready...
  • Overview
  • Terms

2. Getting Set...
  • Talents
  • Glyphs

3. Getting Setter...
  • Weapons
  • Stats/EP
  • Reforging
  • Gems/Enchants/Poisons

4. Getting Going!
  • Rotation

5. Continuing to Go
  • More Rotation

6. The Final Percent
  • Higher Optimization

7. Above and Beyond
  • Specific Optimization – Sets
  • Specific Optimization – Fights

8. This Should Increase my DPS...Unless it Doesn't
  • Theories and Technicalities

9. The Latest Patchwerk
  • Patch Notes

10. The Latest Patchwerk (cont)

11. Reserved

12. Reserved

13. Reserved

14. Reserved

Subtlety is arguably the most difficult rogue spec. Because we haven't done enough modeling, we don't know where it is in relation to other specs in terms of DPS, though generally all specs are competitive. Critical to the spec is its finisher-heavy rotation (made possibly by Honor Among Thieves) and many cooldowns which make the spec difficult to master and very rewarding. This guide is designed to tell you everything you need to know about playing subtlety so you can show that hunter who just stole your trinket who's boss.


SS = Shadowstep
BS = Backstab
ShD = Shadow Dance
SnD = Slice and Dice
HaT = Honor Among Thieves
MoS = Master of Subtlety
FW = Find Weakness
SV = Sanguinary Veins
FoK = Fan of Knives
CT = Crimson Tempest

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I am not giving descriptions of the talents. I suggest you go to http://mop.wowhead.com/mists-of-pandaria-talent-calculator#ryAa for them.


Nightstalker: Alright, but worse than Subterfuge.

Subterfuge: This is required for sub, since it not only gives us some extra openers but also prolongs FW and MoS. Make sure you use Ambush at the very end for max FW uptime.

Shadow Focus: It's...nice... but worse than Subterfuge.

General: Take Subterfuge, I'm sorry but you have no choice if you wanna do good DPS.


Deadly Throw: By merit of being ranged I see this being useless on almost all fights, and only taken on ones where we are forced to be at range. I'd say situational at best, but of course will depend on the fight.

Nerve Strike: Useless unless there's a high-damaging stunable add, which is quite possible although like Deadly Throw it will depend on the fight.

Combat Readiness: Only really good if you end up having to tank for a while and Evasion isn't up. I could see taking this as an "oh no" ability but since the damage reduction is low it will almost always be useless.

General: Pretty much all these talents are situational at best, and usually useless for PvE, meaning pick whatever you like. I personally like this since it means I can pick whatever I want and keep it for things like PvP and soloing.


Cheat Death: This means you can stand in that AoE that will one-shot you, as long as it doesn't proc multiple times. It also means if your tank dies you can tank longer so that those lackluster healers can get your sloppy tank up and you can keep dpsing. That said, you are still making your healers hate you and it won't help against things that hit over time.

Leeching Poison: Not very useful since in PvE you tend to take damage in bursts. That said it will yield the highest overall survivability so it could see use on some fights with lots of unavoidable raid damage.

Elusiveness: This is amazing. With feint up we get 65% reduction of AoE damage and 30% reduction of all damage. With no CD. Yeah it costs energy, so only use it when needed, but this is great.

General: All talents have value but generally speaking Elusiveness is the go-to option for PvE.

Cloak and Dagger: Ehh, it's useful, and it helps ensure your burst, but it also requires CDs to use. Generally if you are far away or in front of from a target you will not be properly set up to blow CDs. Not having it be its own CD also means it may not be ready when you need it.

Shadowstep: Huge mobility increase. Not only will we be able to get to our targets faster, but we will also be able to get away from them faster by SSing a group member. Both of these translate to up time on some fights. Take it.

Burst of Speed: Shadowstep is better unless there is a snare that breaking will increase dps by a LOT, or a TON of running. Could be useful if there's perpetual swaps too but honestly I don't think it will be all that useful on many fights.

General: Shadowstep wins handily in almost every situation.


Prey on the Weak: Great if there is any stunnable mob that needs to die fast and will be undergoing single target damage. That's about it, so it will be very situational.

Paralytic Poison: Randomly stopping an enemy in its tracks when everyone expects it to be moving and if it was moving before it probably should still be is a very bad idea. Basically, this will likely be actively bad in PvE. Maybe, maybe for AoEing lots of mobs that need to be slowed but with another class already slowing...no then they still won't get hit by AoE so it won't be very useful.

Dirty Tricks: Good if you need to gouge an add, which will probably never happen.

General: None of these will be useful on the vast majority of the fights, which means we get to choose for whatever non-PvE aspect of the game we want.


Shuriken Toss: I like it in theory but doubt the damage will make it worth it on the vast majority of fights since we'd need to be out of range for a very long time and hell we have Cloak! Two even!

Marked for Death: Pretty nifty on fights with lots of adds, but unless you are going to be getting that CD reset very often, it isn't worth it.

Anticipation: Oh Anticipation.... This not only allows us to not have to wait for out 5th CP to be a proc, but also lets us save some CP to use for when we get a FW or MoS buff. This is the largest single target dps increase for Sub.

General: Anticipation is the default talent and used on most fights, although if there are lots of swaps then MfD might be worth it. It's hard to imagine a fight where ST is best unless your raid group needs some extra help taking down ranged adds, but really that's a terrible use for a Subtlety rogue.


Glyph of Hemorraghing Veins: This is absolutely required for any fight with adds, and is also required for the suggested opener. Getting SV's 25% damage buff is top priority and glyphed Hemorrhage is the cheapest way to accomplish that.

Glyph of Redirect: This glyph makes it much easier to swap targets as well as not waste combo points in AoE scenarios, and is also recommended.

Glyph of Smoke Bomb: Situational glyph but worth considering if your raid will benefit from the longer Smoke Bomb.

Glyph of Feint: If you are going to need to spam feint for a fight, this will save energy and thus increase dps.

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Due to the importance of BS and Ambush, a dagger in the main hand is required for subtlety. Daggers are also best in the offhand due to their faster speed, since that leads to more Deadly Poison procs. Since 5.0 OH weapon speed is less important than it was in previous expansions, and it may be that replacing a dagger with a higher item-level slow weapon could be an upgrade, but that will depend on the individual situation.


I've removed the EP table because stat weights will likely change in the near future with patches and I cannot keep this accurate. That said, to get the best stat weights available, go here:


Put in your character name/realm and use their weights. It is not perfect, however it is by far the best tool for finding out rogue weights.

Ok fine, here's some things that won't change:

Agility is twice as good as every secondary stat with the exception of yellow hit.
Get yellow hit capped!
The other stats are all pretty close to eachother, and you really should be using Shadowcraft to get the appropriate weights. ShC does undervalue Expertise, but even so Expertise is by no means required. So basically, be yellow hit capped, and other than that !@#$% yourself out for agility.


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/hit/mastery.

By far the best way to go about reforging is to have a program do it for you. Use Shadowcraft for this. One limitation with ShC is that you can't have it do your own weights. Other programs and addons might be able to do that, but just remember that ShC's stat weights are going to be more reliable than ones gained by other models/sims, so if you want to make your own, still use ShC as a base.


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 unless you have the legendary. For weps, use Dancing Steel. Shadowcraft can and should do this for you.


Deadly Poison for every fight! It now applies to both of your weps and is a combination between old DP and old IP (only better), so there is no reason not to use it!

For non-lethal poisons, it is really your call, though you should never use Paralytic Poison in group PvE.

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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)
This section will be broken up into three parts: Basic Rotation, Cooldowns, and Opening

Basic Rotation:

Slice and Dice: Increases attack speed by a ton and gives you energy. This is a massive DPS increase and should be up 100% of the time. It is currently unknown whether or not it should be refreshed at 5 CP or with any amount.

Rupture: Deals damage and activates Sanguinary Vein. You want this up at all times! Note that it does significantly more damage than Eviscerate so even with the Glyph of Sanguinary Veins applying SV Rupture should always be rolling.

Eviscerate: Deals damage and makes you do a pretty twirl!

Finisher priority:
I don't know what's better - Rupture or SnD. However, if both are fading you should just stack up Anticipation charges and refresh Rupture then SnD. If you do SnD first, then you won't get the CP from Anticipation.

A Few More Notes about Finishers:

When you reapply Rupture and SnD (and any over-time effect like Hemo) the duration until the next tick is added to the new duration of the ability, giving you that next tick and causing no loss if you refresh right before the last tick.

Building CP:

Use Backstab (/Hemo/Ambush) to build CP. If you don't have Anticipation, let HaT fill in the 5th CP so you don’t waste any procs. The exception to this is if you are about to energy cap, at which point it is (generally, unless you are wasting a very small amount of energy) better to waste CP than waste energy. But really you should have Anticipation!

Hemo: It is optimal to use Hemorrhage and apply the bleed every 24 secs. Note that the next tick will be preserved, so refreshing Hemo with under 3 secs left is acceptable. Also keep in mind that Hemo damage will be increased when used during FW (also during potion and TotT), so refreshing a bit early or waiting a bit may be better depending on how much uptime you'd lose. Also use Hemo when you can't get behind the target and you are at risk of energy capping. ***Hemo-weaving is tricky to optimize fully, so for a full write-up see The Final Percent: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/topic/4139869493?page=1#8

During ShD, Ambush takes precedence over Hemo and BS.

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More Rotation:

If possible, get combo points before the battle. Sadly you must be in combat to get CP from HaT, but if this is manageable without pulling anything bad then do so. You can also use redirect to save CPs from a previous fight. This assumes you have Subterfuge and are using Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins. If you don't, fix that.

With CP before the pull: SnD (pre-pull) > Prem/Hemorrhage > Ambush > Rupture > Ambush.

Without CP before pull: Prem/Hemorrhage > Ambush > SnD > Ambush.

If you do not have enough energy regen to do this rotation, replace the "Prem/Hemorrhage > Ambush" with "Prem/Garrote".

Anyway after all of your abilities are up, go into your normal rotation using CDs when called for (see below).


Vanish: Use roughly on-cooldown to refresh FW and MoS. Always wait for FW to be down before using this, as overwriting FW is a major dps loss. The exception is if it has almost no time left before the refresh. It is best to wait for Premeditation to be ready, any time spent waiting is generally irrelevant. To maximize FW effectiveness you want to fit the most eviscerates as possible into the stage without hurting your rotation, so check SnD and Rupture durations accordingly before vanishing.

Shadow Dance: Same rules for when to use as Vanish, though ShD has higher priority if both are ready. Replace Backstab/Hemo with ambush. I usually save Prem for after my first finisher to minimize wasted CP. Wait to use your last ambush until just before ShD expires to maximize FW.

Shadow Blades: Uptime is most important for this cooldown, since the extra finishers generally balance out the waste of the auto-attack portion of it when stacking it with FW. With that in mind, use this on cooldown except during Vanish, since Ambush outside of Dance is quite expensive. The exception is during the opener, since all of your procs will be up then.

Preparation: Unless you can fit more than one into a fight, this should generally be saved for a burn phase, lining up with Lust/Heroism/fakeversions. Basically you use this to get an extra vanish, so follow the vanish rules.

Shadowmeld (Night Elf racial): During Shadowmeld you can use stealth abilities, so it makes sense to make a Shadowmeld+Premeditation+Ambush macro and use this for an extra FW every 2 mins.

For all FW-applying CDs: Because of the potency of Find Weakness maximizing its uptime is very important. That means cooldowns that allow the use of openers should not be used while Find Weakness is up.

Order of use: Shadow Dance is our strongest cooldown and its low CD makes it the highest priority. After that use Vanish, immediately refreshing the CD with Prep if you aren't saving it. Shadowmeld should be prioritized after Vanish, but if you are going to be using Preparation after the next Vanish, you should use Shadowmeld first.

AoE and Cleave:

2 Mobs
Use your normal rotation, but keep up the CT buff. Since it does so much of its damage in its DoT, be wary of clipping it. That said, note that if it falls off there will be a significant damage loss due to the next application on the off-target not getting the SV buff. There are ways to use multiDoTing for cleave, which I will talk about in the Higher Optimization section.

3-4 Mobs
Generate CP using FoK. Use your normal rotation but replacing Eviscerate with CT. Unless you will be on adds for a long time, do not use any CDs while cleaving, since they only increase damage on your primary target. That said CDs are still a DPS increase, so if using one will grant more total uses throughout the fight, then go ahead and pop it. When FW is on the primary target, then you should only be using FoK for CP when there are 4+ enemies. It is usually still worth it to keep the CT buff up since you want the damage bonus for poison ticks and when you get back to your AoE rotation. Your primary target should be the one who will dies last, since there is a lower chance that it will die before you get 5 CP, and you will also get more damage from your single target DoTs.

5+ Mobs
For these you want a full AoE rotation. Make sure your target is in range of FoK as if it is not hit by the ability then FoK will not generate CP. Use CT as early as possible to activate SV, either using a CP from the previous target, or using one FoK to get it. Once SV is up you want to maintain SnD while dumping any excess CP into CT. Again your target should ideally be the mob that dies last, though that doesn't mean you shouldn't be auto-attacking it.

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Higher Optimization:

This is an amalgamation of various little things that are all useful, though not necessary to play sub at 95% effectiveness. Basically, these should help you squeeze the last bit of DPS out of your rogue. This does not include set bonus, for that see the next section.

Anticipation Optimization:

Anticipation can be used to move finishers from low-damage phases to high-damage phases by keeping high Anticipation stacks when there are no damage increases (buffs/debuffs, most notably FW) and low stacks during increased damage phases.

Before we go into the technique, let's set some things straight:
We will take Anticipation to mean we have a total of 10 CP. We are going to call any buff or debuff that increases your damage significantly "buff". This could be FW, boss mechanics, procs, etc. There are therefore "buffed" and "not buffed" phases of each fight. It is up to you to decide for which buffs you want to apply this strategy to.

Not buffed phases:
Keep Anticipation stacks high, using finishers when you have 9-10 CP. If you are going up to 10 CP make sure that nothing is going to proc a wasted one, because really if you have Anticipation then wasting a CP is just stupid. This ensures you will always have a finisher for a buffed phase.

Buffed phases:
Use finishers at 5 CP, but don't worry about anything proccing a 6th cause hey, you have Anticipation!

Don't worry too much about keeping high CP during non-buffed phases. If you need to refresh SnD and Rupture at the same time, it is better to use both and have 0 CP than to clip one or have significant downtime.

Rotational Intricacies:

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.


With a the help of Redirect and Anticipation, subtlety rogues can do a pretty decent job multiDoTing. MultiDoTing is when you switch between multiple targets, applying DoTs that do more damage than the alternatives you would use if you only had one primary target. Note that this is only worthwhile if the enemies are going to last as long as our DoTs last.

Our DoTs:
Rupture: This is our primary DoT, and once it is up on one target we should be looking to get it on another as soon as possible. All other abilities are filler.
Hemorrhage: Because we need CP for Rupture, it makes sense to use Hemo on every target we swap to as well.
Crimson Tempest: While this has lower priority than rupture on groups of 3 or fewer, keep in mind that you still want to maintain this.

Pulling it off:
The best way to do this is make sure you have a solid rotation on your primary target first, with Rupture, Hemo, and SnD all with high durations on your primary target. Once you feel comfortable with that, pool CP until you have at least 5 and Redirect>Rupture on your secondary target. Once you do that, apply Hemorrhage and get your rotation set up similar to how you did it before. By now you want to make sure CT is up, but wait, there's a trick! Since you know your current target as the longest duration on its DoTs, you will want to switch ASAP. Pool CP until you have 5 plus Anticipation charges. Then target the next enemy and unleash CT. The Anticipation charges will become CP on your new target, allowing you to quickly set up your rotation there without the risk of losing CP or the need to wait for Redirect to be off cooldown. Speaking of Redirect's cooldown though, if you are using the Glyph of Redirect in 5.4 it will have no CD, which will make this technique much easier.

Tips and Tricks:
With Glyph of Redirect and some clever use of macros, this can all be done without target swapping at all! Simply set your next target as focus (I'd suggest focusing whoever you are mousing over) and have @focus macros for Redirect, Rupture, and Hemorrhage, and use those whenever your DoTs are fading. Remember to redirect the CP back to your primary target after using Hemo. I'll end this section with the code for these macros. They are all one-liners:
Focus Mouseover: /focus mouseover
Rupture Focus: /cast [@focus] Rupture
Hemo Focus: /cast [@focus] Hemorrhage

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Specific Optimization:

Set Bonuses, Raid Mechanics, and other Obscurities

Tier 15 2pc
Your finishers have an extra CP worth of duration: This is pretty cool, getting more out of our finishers means mastery is a bit better, though of course you should be using Shadowcraft to find your EP anyway. It's worth noting that this does not affect CT, since the duration of that ability does not scale with CP.

Tier 15 4pc
Reduced energy cost during Shadow Blades: According to Simcraft, this bonus makes it worthwhile to stack ShB with ShD. Take that with a grain of salt, but I generally trust SimC for rotational issues, and that's about the only data we have.

Tier 16 2pc
HaT reduces generator energy cost: Yeah this is just a straight up buff to generators, though since it is in the form of energy, it also means we'll get more CP for finishers.

Tier 16 4pc
Backstab has a chance to proc Ambush: This is good. We should be pooling energy before this Ambush to maximize what we get out of the FW it provides. Also, this means we might want to be keeping under 8 CP/Anticipations so that we can always Ambush before Eviscerating should we get a proc on what would have been our last BS before an Eviscerate.

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Theories and Technicalities:

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Patch Notes/Hotfixes

Hotfixes - 9/24/13
  • Sanguinary Vein now causes the Rogue to deal 35% additional damage to targets afflicted by Rupture, Garrote, or Crimson Tempest (up from 25%).
  • Tier-16 4-piece set bonus should no longer incorrectly activate from attacks other than Backstab.

Patch 5.4
(These are current as of 9/10/13) For the most up to date patch notes, see http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/10158897/#rogue

  • T16 is out! That means some really good bonuses that I'll put into one of the theorycrafting sections.
  • Nightstalker now increases damage while stealthed by 50%, up from 25% - But you should still shouldn't be using it.
  • Sanguinary Vein now increases damage by 25% (up from 20%)
  • Eviscerate damage reduced by 10%.
  • Backstab and Hemo damage increased by 15%.
  • Ambush damage increased by 12%.
  • Fan of Knives damage increased by 25%.
  • Glyph of Sap replaced by Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins: Allows Hemorrhage to apply the SV damage increase (This is game changing).
  • Glyph of Crippling Poison replaced with Glyph of Sharpened Knives, which makes FoK apply the Sunder Armor debuff.
  • Glyph of Adrenaline Rush was made baseline, now we get Glyph of Redirect, which reduces the cooldown of Redirect by 50 seconds (down to 10 seconds).

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Edit: Thanks Hail!

I'm probably going to give Sub a try soon and will want all the information I can get. Thank you for putting this together.
NP. And Bol, my stickied post should be enough to get you started :)
03/09/2012 01:57 PMPosted by Haileaus
NP. And Bol, my stickied post should be enough to get you started :)

Excellent! I wasn't sure how much was/is going to change. I'll start studying. =]
It probably won't change much at all, although the guide is old and some parts have not been looked at for a while, so we will see. Generally speaking anything important is already there though. It just isn't as pretty as I'd like.

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