Mutilate? Combat? Subtlety? Its easy to get locked into one spec. After you have played one for a while you learn the rotation, you know the panic buttons like second nature, and you can use all of your attacks with your eyes closed.
There’s an old bit of rogue wisdom that you should spec to your weapons. If you have awesome swords, you should play a spec that makes use of them. If you get a great main hand dagger, you should consider an assassination build.
This all applies to me, so I’ll use my own process as an anecdote. I love Mutilate. I think it is the most fun rogue playstyle. I have always enjoyed Mutilate, even when it was a more difficult rotation to manage with Hf B stacks. As far back as Karazhan in BC, I played as Mutilate but finally switched to Combat Daggers because it was a good bit stronger than Mutilate at that time. Once WotLK came out I jumped right back to Mutilate.
In Ulduar I picked up two swords (Rune-Etched Nightblade and Razorscale Talon) rather than let them be DE’d. They have been sitting in my bags, unused. However, I have not managed to get a new dagger in a long, long time. I am still using my Twilight Mist and Webbed Death from Naxx 25. After much internal debate, I decided to give Combat Swords a try.
This is a big deal. I have not wielded a sword in as long as I can recall. Daggers = rogue, IMO.
So here are the steps I went through.
1. Research a good spec
2. Combat dummy testing
I went to a heroic combat dummy and did a 5-minute dps run with my regular Mutilate spec to set the benchmark. No buffs or consumables used. Then I respecced and re-glyphed for Combat Swords and did another 5-minute test to compare.
My dps was terrible. Really, really terrible. Why?
Surprise! My swords skill wasn’t maxed out. (Actually, that’s not really a surprise) So I went and ran some guildie alts through Zul’Farrak a few times until my sword skill hit 400.
Back to the Combat dummy… this time better results, but still lower than I expected. Why?
Enchants. My daggers both have Berserking. My swords… didn’t. One had Mongoose, the other was unenchanted. So I busted out the bankroll and got Berserking on my swords.
Back to the combat dummy again… and this time my Combat dps was actually a tad higher than my Mutilate baseline. I’m talking only a percent or two higher, but still comparable. If that was the only difference then I’d just stick with my Mutilate spec that I love. But I know that my dps should increase as I learn the rotation and get a feel for when to use my cooldowns. Also, it would be nice if my raid got the benefit of the Savage Combat buff I can bring as a combat rogue. So I’m satisfied that I can move to the new spec without gimping myself.
3. Run a heroic instance
I ran Heroic Old Kingdom and it was a learning experience. It was a PuG, and not the best players, but still a fair test. My dps was lower than I am used to by a good margin. Combat dps is very dependent on its cooldowns – Blade Flurry, Killing Spree, and Adrenaline Rush. In any fights that I didn’t have those available, the elemental shaman would out-dps me. In any fights that I had one or more cooldowns to use, I would out-dps him.
But that was just on trash. On the bosses I did quite good sustained damage simply because I outgeared everyone else in the PuG. The Combat Swords build has a really slow combo point buildup compared to Mutilate, so it worked best on single-mob fights when I had a lot of time on target. In the end I felt OK, but not thrilled.
4. Run something harder
My best test of the specs came in a 25-man Vault of Archavon PuG. The difference between the Emalon and Archavon fights really showed the strength and weaknesses of the build.
On Archavon, I was easily top dps. It was a single target fight, so I never lost my combo points by switching targets, and all of my Killing Spree damage went to the boss. I had a satisfyingly high damage total (and then lost the roll on the rogue gear that dropped).
Emalon was a different story. Running away from his AoE bursts disrupted my rotations much more than it ever did with Mutilate. When we turned to burn down the buffed add, my Killing Spree was of limited use because I didn’t need to hit the non-buffed adds. I could have used it to artifically pump up my damage figures, but that wouldn’t have helped the raid – better to save it for Emalon. Then by the time I got back to the boss I had to scramble to keep my SnD from dropping, and had no other combo points ready for Rupture or Evis.
In the end I was 9th on the damage meter for that fight. I haven’t been that low on a damage meter in as long as I can remember. I feel that the switching targets was a huge disadvantage for the Combat spec because its combo points build up so slowly. Mutilate has better target-switching capability because of faster combo point generation.
Also, I felt like the Combat build had less utility. Well, not less, but not as readily available. There are plenty of times in a typical raid that I will use a Kidney Shot to stop a mob from attacking a healer, or spend a global cooldown or two on FoK when there is more than one mob in the area. That’s not a problem at all with Mutilate. It builds so many combo points that you always have enough available when you want to use a finishing move.
With Combat, I felt like the rotation was so tight and the combo point gain so slow that I couldn’t waste the points on a Kidney Shot without suffering a major blow to my dps. I felt like a GCD used on anything other than SnD or Rupture would result in my rotation falling apart. This could just be my inexperience with the rotation.
As of this moment, my dual specs are Mut and Combat Swords. My plan for this coming week is to use Combat on single-target bosses like Deconstructor, Ignis, Kologarm and Vezax, but go back to Mutilate for target switching fights like Razorscale and Thorim. After that I will re-evaluate my spec.