5.4 – The Death of Shadowstep and the Rise of Combat?

Sorry it’s taken a while to get this posted – I didn’t want to comment on the PTR changes immediately since Blizzard are making frequent additions and amendments to the […]

Sorry it’s taken a while to get this posted – I didn’t want to comment on the PTR changes immediately since Blizzard are making frequent additions and amendments to the patch notes. As it stands, there are a fair few buffs heading our way that are likely to move rogues up from the bottom of the melee pile.

Rogue Changes for 5.4


Glyph of Blind – Your Blind ability also removes all damage over time effects from the target that would cause Blind to break early. Major Glyph.

At first glance this may look like a trivial change to the wording of the tooltip, but this update opens up a new tactic that may appeal to Assassination rogues. When combined with Dirty Tricks, your blind will not break from your bleeds or poison damage. It will be possible to get a full rupture on a target and then blind them (to either restealth or to put damage into another target). During this time, venomous wounds will continue to proc – with current gear this will take about 30% of their health off while they’re unable to heal themselves. For duels this is likely to be a useful trick, but it may find it’s way into arenas (especially 2v2). This glyph won’t be too appealing to Subtlety rogues as poison/bleed damage is laughable (my rupture does about 1100 damage per tick) and it will prevent them from blinding into a sap during a dance since their dots will break it. Assassination rogues will also need to be aware of this if they intend to vanish>sap after their blind.

Glyph of Hemorrhaging Veins – Your Saunguinary Veins ability now also increases damage done to targets affected by your Hemorrhage.

One of the problems faced by Subtlety rogues at the moment is their low damage outside of shadowdance. Part of the reason for this is the amount of energy/combo points needed to keep rupture and Slice’n’Dice up – this brilliant glyph will give you more than ten extra combo points between dances (and won’t require you to waste a GCD garrotting during dances when you switch to non-casters).

Recuperate now restores 4% of maximum health every 3 seconds, up from 3%.
Glyph of Recovery – While Recuperate is active, you receive 20% increased healing from other sources.

Ferals benefit from +20% healing thanks to a glyph, and so now will rogues. This opens up a couple of new possibilities – personally I’ll be dropping Glyph of Feint to take this one, but if you’re confident you’re not going to be tunnelled all game you could swap Elusiveness for the ‘new and improved’ Cheat Death or even, dare I say it, Leeching Poison (perhaps for 2v2 if you’re playing without a healer).

Glyph of Redirect – Redirect no longer has a cooldown.

Nobody really used this when it was a talent but it will make a very tempting glyph. Being able to frequently redirect combo points will be a big help to any team that needs to make multiple fast switches to win.

Changes to Rogue Abilities

Backstab now deals 315% weapon damage (up from 275%).
Hemorrhage now deals 232% weapons damage if a dagger is equipped (up from 203%).
Cheat Death now reduces damage taken by 85% after activating (up from 80%).
Cloak and Dagger now allows the Rogue to use Ambush, Garrote, and Cheap Shot from 40 yards away (up from 30 yards).
Nightstalker now increases damage dealt by abilities while stealthed by 50%, up from 25%.

The Death of Shadowstep

I’ve talked to a lot of rogues and discussed this on a couple of PVP forums and my thoughts are still the same as they’ve been for the last month or so. We’ve spent a long time being forced into taking shadowstep for PVP and it’s gained a very strong following. In my eyes though, shadowstep is a relic of pre-cata gameplay that we can finally lay to rest once 5.4 arrives.

Shadowstep has traditionally been a great talent because it opened up the four following tactics in PVP.

  • Shadowstepping team members to eat traps placed by hunters
  • Using shadowstep on a focused target and instantly kicking important heals
  • Closing gaps after knockbacks from platforms
  • Landing stuns on High Avoidance targets

However, over the last couple of years a lot of changes were made to the game that have, in my eyes, seriously damaged the power of shadowstep.

Eating Traps

Shadowstepping into a frost trap can prevent long CC chains from taking your healer out of the game while the other team destroys someone. Unfortunately, hunters can now AoE root when they disengage which completely disables shadowstep. You can use vanish to break the trap, but good hunters will cover their roots with a flare which blocks this tactic. After 5.4 goes live we’ll be able to cloak out of hunter’s roots but we’ll only be able to do that during 33% of the disengages and if the hunter is skilled it will be very hard to predict which is the disengage you do need to cloak out of.

Focus Kicking

I won’t lie, in the past being able to kick a heal at mid-range has won our team a lot of games. However, WoW is now a very different experience – during Cataclysm we saw the introduction of smoke-bombs which meant healers were often having to run into melee range to save their partner and end up getting kicked or gouged. On its own, this isn’t enough of a reason to abandon shadowstep (you can’t rely on one smokebomb to win a game) but the arrival of Mists of Pandaria brought more changes to the table.

Every class (and their dog?) seems a lot more mobile than before Cataclysm – we have to contend with Displacer Beast, Transcendence, Demonic Gateways, Teleports, Leaps of Faith and Body and Soul as well as all the usual speed boosts and the general problem of being peeled. What I’m finding (in arenas and watching streams) is that rogues are having to use shadowstep to stay on their target during kill opportunities. With a 20-24second cooldown, this is removing the ability to use shadowstep for kicks on the healer. If you take shadowstep for the purpose of step-kicks, ask yourself when was the last time you actually managed to land a step-kick that won you a game. I don’t think I can remember a single game this expansion where that was the case, although I can remember many that were lost due to poor rogue mobility (not being able to catch a target on 5% hp for example).

Z-Axis Recovery

Getting typhooned off a platform has always been a killer as it’s often a long run back to your target. Blades Edge and Dalaran Sewers have been the problem maps for being knocked back on, but we now have steps at every corner of Sewers and in 5.4 the pillars on Blade’s Edge are being replaced with ramps. If you’re knocked off without shadowstep you’ll experience some downtime running back but not as much as before.

Step-stunning/Dismantling your Target

This tactic has its uses when you’re going toe-to-toe with high avoidance targets (rogues with Evasion, warriors with Die by the Sword). It’s a situational tactic that can be replaced with gouging from behind with the Dirty Tricks talent or vanish-cheapshotting if you don’t mind using up an important cooldown. Out of the four ‘tricks’ shadowstep brings, this is the one I miss the most but I still don’t think it’s worth while taking the talent for.

A Relic of the Past?

Traditionally rogues have always needed shadowstep and, because of this, I believe it’s now taken out of habit rather than necessity. There have been issues in the past with shadowstep that we have put up with because there has been no alternative; the biggest being Line-of-Sight. A lot of classes treat their mobility as a defence mechanism – priests, shamans and druids can boost their speed and will try to pillar hump as soon as their health starts to drop. For these situations shadowstep is borderline worthless. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to step to a friendly player near to the target but you cannot rely on this.

Taking shadowstep also directly reduces our survivability. One bad fear-path into the middle of an arena or a failed kill-attempt often leaves you away from the safety of pillars. If you used shadowstep to connect on your target you’ll often find yourself waddling back to safety while their whole team turrets damage into you. It also means you have to rely on sprint (and often cloak) to kite targets.

The Benefits of Preparation Phase

Now that we can see what teams we’re facing (and change our talents accordingly), there’s no longer a need to take the same talents every game. If I was to find myself facing a hunter, elemental shaman and a resto druid on Blade’s Edge arena I might take shadowstep, but long gone are the days of having to take a talent just in case you ran into a certain class.

So, what are the alternatives?

Burst of Speed

It won’t break roots, but with the reduced energy cost in 5.4 it will literally be spammable. 15 energy is nothing, you’ll recover most of it before the GCD is off. It’s 170% run speed so you pretty much have a permanent sprint and pillars will offer fleeing targets very little protection from your blades. You’ll have the mobility to escape when things look bad as you can repeatedly break snares and (hopefully) reach safety.

If you’re playing Assassination you will want as much uptime as possible, so BoS is the ideal choice. For Subtlety your damage will coincide with your shadowdance but the improvements to hemo/backstab damage should make it easier to score kills if your dance didn’t quite get the target low enough. At the moment you pretty much have to reset and wait for the next dance, but the extra uptime BoS brings will really help you connect and hopefully finish off your target.

Cloak and Dagger

I haven’t experimented with CnD since it stopped working during shadowdance, but several rogues still swear by it. Woundman claims it’s an essential part of Combat PVP and if you are confident you can get lots of restealths it is definitely worth looking at. Combined with subterfuge you can easily cheapshot two or three players at once which has the potential to bring more control to a game when it’s needed than a step-kick could.

I’d love to hear feedback about peoples thoughts on shadowstep. If you disagree with my opinion PLEASE let me know, it would be very useful to add more voices to the discussion.

The Rise of Combat

The last time I talked about Combat was when 5.3 launched and Subtlety had its damage nerfed hard. At the time I was slated for blaspheming against Subtlety but it did turn out to be a playable spec. It wasn’t as successful as I imagined due to the strength of Assassination but patch 5.4 looks like it may change the pecking order of rogue specs (or at least balance them out).

The two notable changes to Combat are with Sinister Strike and Killing Spree.

Sinister Strike now costs 50 Energy, up from 40. Base and additional damage increased by 30%.
Killing Spree targeting has been changed. If Blade Flurry is not active, Killing Spree will now hit the Rogue’s target 7 times or pick the closest eligible target if none had been selected. Killing Spree will continue to work as it has while Blade Flurry is active.

The change to SS isn’t massive; its low damage will be buffed by 30 but it’s energy cost will also be increased by 25%. The drop in combo points generated will be offset by a new talent which gives your finishers a 20% chance of a free CP per CP spent (so a free combo with a 5pt finisher). You’ll notice this change to SS the most during Adrenaline Rush – buffing SS sounds like a buff to sustained but it’s really a big buff to burst.

The second change is the one I find most exciting. Killing Spree is currently countered by its tendency to send you bouncing across the map wasting your damage on pets, mirror images and even mind-controlled allies. It currently hits hard but is unpredictable and needs setting up so your kill target is isolated. Patch 5.4 fixes this, letting you go crazy on a target even in the middle of a Stampede.

The reason I have a soft-spot for Combat is Revealing Strike. As long as your target isn’t DR’d on stuns, you can kidneyshot someone for 8.1seconds. You can’t redirect somebody into a stun because you need to hit them with Revealing Strike first, but MFD would cover this if needed. If you have conquest points to spare, spending them on a pair of slow weapons before next season isn’t a bad idea!

Patch 5.4 should fix several problems rogues currently have and also looks like it will open up all three specs for PVP. Personally I’m excited about the changes – the only cloud on the horizon I can see is the issue of PVE trinkets in PVP. Fingers crossed Blizzard will resolve this gamebreaking concern before 5.4 launches.

About Dcruize

Rogue addict, PVP junkie, insomniac. I started playing WoW in 2006 and, after being told that 'nobody wants a rogue', tried to level a priest. I quickly realized that love and approval were a poor alternative to stealth and ambush and have been backstabbing away quite happily ever since.