Which Rogue PVP Spec?

For the first time in World of Warcraft, all three rogue specs are now looking viable in PVP. Each spec has shone individually in the past, but a combination of […]

For the first time in World of Warcraft, all three rogue specs are now looking viable in PVP. Each spec has shone individually in the past, but a combination of talent redistribution, rogue nerfs and the removal of PVE gear from PVP has made the choice between Assassination, Combat and Subtlety a lot harder than it once was.

The ‘best’ spec to take now depends on how you will be PVPing with your rogue. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages and what works well in one situation might be less optimal in others. We’re still playing in a game that is pretty brutal for rogues to unstealth in, but as Bitters blogged last week, the rogue class can still be put to good use in PVP.

Assassination Spec Assassination

Tools: Mutilate, Dispatch, Envenom, Vendetta.

Often looked down on as being the ‘waddle spec’, Assassination now provides the same mobility (or lack of) as Subtlety. Its reputation of being a mindless tunnelling spec is still fairly accurate – having S’n’D refreshed by successful envenoms makes the spell rotation mind-numbingly easy to get to grips with. Keeping rupture ticking for Venomous Wounds procs is easy when your only other finishers are KS and envenom. The only excitement outside of your CDs comes from the new Dispatch ability. It offers more damage per point of energy than Mutilate and gives smoother combo point generation and DPS. The downside is that Dispatch doesn’t give you Blindside procs like Mutilate does, so the advantage of Dispatch over Mutilate isn’t as massive as it first looks. PVE theorycrafting shows switching to Dispatch at 35% still gives a small DPS gain so it’s worth making the effort to move your finger off the Mutilate key.

The sustained damage from Assassination is fine but the burst damage from Vendetta is spread over 20 seconds, making it a bit harder to score quick kills than with other rogue specs. As Vendetta is a debuff on your target rather than a self buff, once you pop it you’re committed to your target. Suddenly having to swap to another target wastes however long is left on the debuff, as does immunity abilities such as Hand of Protection.

Assassination Summary

  • Pros:
    • Decent sustained/burst damage
    • Slice ‘n’ Dice is refreshed with each envenom
    • Dispatch helps during execute phases
  • Cons:
    • Vendetta can’t be switched to other targets
    • Can get a bit boring after a while

Best suited to: Arenas, especially for comps where games are often slow and drawn out. RBGs for steady damage.

Combat Spec Combat

Tools: Revealing Strike, Killing Spree, Adrenaline Rush, Blade Flurry.

Even though Combat has traditionally been a PVE spec, it has had some PVP success in the past. HArP was lethal in its time, Improved Fan of Knives provided a few lols for a short time with its AoE silence and no sane S6 rogues with Warglaives in their bags would have considered using a dagger-based spec. In Mists of Pandaria, Combat returns as a (surprisingly overlooked) PVP spec that has several powerful tricks in its arsenal.

While other specs get Dispatch and Haemorrhage as bonus CP generators, Combat rogues are blessed with Revealing Strike. The extra 35% duration it gives to your finishing moves can be game breaking – 8 second Kidney Shots anyone? If you take the Paralytic Poison talent you can easily land 12 second stun chains without needing to Cheap Shot – with Prey on the Weak it’s an extra couple of seconds of +10% damage on your target.

Combat gives two hard hitting CDs; Adrenaline Rush and Killing Spree. Both of these are on a shorter CD than the tooltip suggests (thanks to Restless Blades) and if used when Bandit’s Guile has reached Deep Insight, gives decent burst.

Killing Spree can be a bit hit-and-miss – even with Blade Flurry active you’re unlikely to score all your hits on the player you’re trying to kill unless they are alone. It can also be disastrous on z-axis arena maps unless you use Glyph of Killing Spree. Finding yourself standing on the lower level of Sewers while your target runs across the platform above is… embarrassing. If you can isolate your target it does give nice burst, more so if you have enough spare conquest points to purchase a slow offhand weapon for swapping to. Another bonus from using Killing Spree is it’s ability to break roots and dodge crowd control. During KS you can’t be cc’d – great if you want to avoid predictable Frost Novas or Psychic Screams.

Outside cooldowns, sustained damage from Combat is fine but it does have a ramp up time. Bandit’s Guile is where your pressure will come from, but CC chains can ruin your stack before it reaches Deep Insight. Where Combat’s sustained damage really shines is in RBGs, especially in mid-field where you can cleave with Blade Flurry. Damage isn’t always the most important factor in RBGs, but when you’re trying to rush Lumber Mill, wipe the mid-field in WSG/TP or take control of the flag spawn in EotS, it pays to be able to keep up with the damage output of the other classes.

  • Pros:
    • Kidney shots last 8 seconds
    • Good sustained damage
    • Fast combo-generation during CDs
    • CC avoider/root breaker with Killing Spree
    • Blade Flurry cleaving in large scale PVP
    • Good synchronism with Paralytic Poison/Prey on the Weak
  • Cons:
    • Damage requires ramp up time
    • Needs non-dagger mainhand

Best suited to: Meat-grinder RBGs, supporting other DPSers in arenas, long fights

SubtletySpec Subtlety

Tools: Backstab, Hemorrhage, Shadow Dance, Premeditation

Subtlety has been regarded as the ‘skilful’ rogue PVP spec for a long time now – taking full advantage of shadow step and shadow dance, plus coping with the, ahem, Mensa challenging requirement of being *behind* your target to do damage meant it was a spec that required a little bit more skill than the 1112 1113 playstyle of other DPS specs. MoP has heavily changed the rogue class but Subtlety is still a spec that rewards you for finesse.

As everyone playing a rogue will have noticed, a well timed Shadow Dance with a full energy bar does a lot of damage. Our low crit rate wasn’t as damaging to the spec as first thought and comps that rely on heavy opening burst (like RMP) benefit from Dance’s short but deadly duration.

On the downside, Subtlety has weak sustained damage outside of Shadow Dance. Not an issue if you can get a quick kill, problematic otherwise. Another issue that becomes apparent in long fights is the combination of low mobility and backstab’s positional requirement. Crippling poison is weaker than it used to be and outside of team support and (dodgeable) shivs, the only way you’ll be able to reliably get behind a turtling target is with your valuable stuns and expensive gouges. One solution for mitigating the energy capping this can cause involves swapping to a slow mainhand and using hemo instead – the damage is less than a backstab, but it’s still more damaging than a “You must be behind your target” message. Ambushes need daggers to hit hard, so you will need either a fantastic PVE mainhand or a third PVP weapon to swap to.

The new talent choice Anticipate syncs nicely with Shadow Dance – being able to bank 10 CPs for two back-to-back eviscerates after the ambush spam from Dance finishes gives borderline OP burst. If your arena tactics involve blowing something up in the first 10 seconds, Subtlety will give you the tools you need.

  • Pros:
    • Strong burst damage
    • Can sap/silence during Shadowdance
    • Good sync with Anticipate
  • Cons:
    • Weak sustained damage
    • Positional requirement of backstab

Best suited to: Burst comps in arenas, EFC/Orb sacking in RBGs.


With three viable specs it’s really worth experimenting with all of them while we wait for patch 5.1 to arrive. There’s still a general attitude around of ‘go sub or go home’ (especially from non-rogues) but each spec has its uses – dismissing a spec based on its historical performance isn’t wise when the game has changed so dramatically since the last season.

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.