Combat vs Mutilate now, not later


In an earlier post I said that my mutilate spec was preferred over combat daggers, and I tested that on practice dummies. However, instance runs do not involve fighting practice dummies.

A lot of theorycrafters have crunched numbers to show that Mutilate is a great spec (and it is), and that both Mutilate and Combat Daggers are very nearly equal in PvE dps. Those same number-wizards can recommend the ideal attack rotation. In my Mutilate build, the various dps calculators and spreadsheets told me that a 4+r/4+n rotation would be best (that is a 4 or 5 combo point rupture, and a 4 or 5 combo point envenom, with SnD always up).

Well, those calculations are done under fairly ideal conditions, when you can just stand there and go through your rotation without interruption, without changing targets, etc… Basically, a tank-and-spank boss fight.

Right now, the game is not being played under those conditions. In the early 70’s, AoE tanking is the norm. Trash mobs die in under 10 seconds. Bosses in instances are dying in two minutes. In those circumstances, everything changes. Rupture is not useful because it won’t have time to get through all of its ticks. Deadly Poison doesn’t have a chance to stack, which makes Envenom a less effective finisher, and reduces the usefulness of the Deadly Poison.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of time to crunch numbers myself. So I did what a good scientist does – an experiment. I ran Utgarde Keep twice. The first time I went in with my Mutilate raid spec. The second time I went through with a Combat Dagger spec. Here’s what I saw.

Mutilate run through Utgarde

We went in with a fairly well-geared pally tank. Since we outgeared the place, he just gathered up groups of 3-5 mobs and we dpsed them down without any CC. I used Deadly and Wound poisons on a pair of 1.5 speed daggers. Mutilate was my main attack, and I tried to use Envenom as my main finisher.

My damage output was good, but I felt that it should have been better. The reason for that is because I rarely got a chance to use more than one finisher on a trash mob before it died. When I had enough combo points for a finisher, often DP was only at a 2 stack. I found myself using Eviscerate as often as Envenom (not ideal) due to a lack of poison stacks.

I always made sure HfB was at a 3-stack before combat began, but since the mobs were dying so fast I could rarely afford the energy to refresh it during combat. In fact, energy was a very limiting factor. I was generating combo points much faster than I was accumulating energy, and that slowed me down.

My damage on the boss fights was fine. In those I was able to get somewhat of a real attack rotation going.

In the end, the pally tank did more overall damage than I did. That’s a bit embarrassing.

Combat run through Utgarde Keep

This time we had a druid tank, although we used the same gather-and-kill technique with very little CC. I went in with Wound/Wound poisons on my pair of 1.5 speed daggers. My main attack was Backstab and used Eviscerate as my main finisher for lack of a better one.

My damage output was much higher. I would alternate between Blade Flurry and Killing Spree for burst damage on group pulls. First pull, Blade Flurry. Next pull, Killing Spree. Repeat. Wound Poison procs were flying everywhere.

The Combat build is much much slower to generate combo points. I didn’t get up to 5 combo points on any single trash mobs, and only on the last of the three bosses. My finishers were not my source of burst damage. Instead, I relied on BF and KS to get big numbers.

On boss fights the burst damage from BF, KS, and Adrenaline Rush is through the roof – but only for a short time. Over a long boss fight like the ones we had pre-WotLK, the Mutilate build would have been superior. But here, when the bosses are dying in two minutes, its all about the burst.


This is purely anecdotal, and a lot of the differences in dps could have been due to me rather than any inherent differences in the performance of the specs. Perhaps when I have some time next week I’ll do a more in-depth analysis including combat log parses.

In light of this, though, I think that I’ll stick with Combat Daggers until the game gets a little harder and mobs and bosses start lasting a little longer. I am going to tweak my spec to get Imp. Eviscerate in there if I’m going to use that as a finisher over Envenom.


9 Responses to “Combat vs Mutilate now, not later”

  1. 1 YeOldeGit
    November 20, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    I could never level up without Combat. Having the little AOE that comes with BF and KS makes multipulls so much easier, and the reduced Sprint and Evasion cooldown that comes with the Endurance talent means that every 2 minutes I can gather 5 or so mobs with Sprint and burn them down with minimal health loss. I’ve also got the Evasion glyph for levelling, so that it lasts 20s rather than 15s, which also means up to 5 more hits from Unfair Advantage. Lovely stuff! I do hope to use Mutilate once I’m at 80 and back raiding though, it’s just so much more roguish than Combat.

  2. 2 azande
    November 21, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Just a comment on your test. For the mutilate run you weren’t using the optimal poisons. They should be Instant Poison on your fastest weapon (MH) and Deadly Poison on your OH. There is a big difference due to Mutilate speccing in Improved Poisons and Combat not being able to. According to Elitist Jerks, the Attack Power inflection point where IP is better than WP is:

    Talent | AP
    1/5 | 19250
    2/5 | 7875
    3/5 | 4083
    4/5 | 2188
    5/5 | 1050

    The comment about trash is relevant, Mutilate will never be as efficient as Combat due to Blade Flurry and Killing Spree. I have been raiding as Mutilate since patch 3.0 (done part of Sunwell with it) and I find from my experience that on trash it doesn’t really matter how many DP stacks or combo points you have on a mob. What I usually do is open with Garrote (or cheap shot), S&D, Mutilate, Envenom to get a full S&D running and then I’ll take it from there.

    By using Eviscerate as Mutilate you also miss out on the increased chance to apply Poison that Envenom grants.

    Hunger for Blood might seem a chore to keep up during trash but 9% damage increase to all your attacks is going to make a lot more difference than missing an Eviscerate or an Envenom if you need to refresh HfB.

    Energy starvation can be an issue sometimes, that’s why I have sacrificed Opportunity in my spec at 70 for 5 points in Relentless strike, at least I’m sure I get energy back with a 5CP finisher and a very good chance with a 4CP one.

    But as usual it all boils down to the question of what spec do you enjoy playing more.

    Sorry for the long comment, I didn’t mean to lecture you 🙂

  3. November 21, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Azande said:
    “What I usually do is open with Garrote (or cheap shot), S&D, Mutilate, Envenom to get a full S&D running and then I’ll take it from there”

    On Utgarde Keep trash, if I do all of that, the mob is usually dead right as I get to the end of that cycle. Sometimes I’m lucky to even get the Envenom off before it dies. And if I don’t get the Envenom off, I don’t get the full SnD, which means I then have to spend combo points renewing it on the next trash mob. Sunwell trash survived a lot longer than Utgarde Keep trash, so its not a good comparison.

    I’m with you, though – I went with Mutilate after patch 3.0 and I enjoy it more than Combat. But I don’t want to finish behind the pally tank on the damage meter any more. So I feel that I have to stick with combat for now just to keep my damage where it needs to be.

  4. 4 GValle
    November 24, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    Sup Mr. D! 😀

    I probably think that you probably had more success with combat namely because of bladeflurry yahyah? AOE on trash > all, and mutilate spec has none =( You’ll probably notice mutilate balance out when you get the epic FAN OF KNIVES!!

    On bosses dying fast…very true for UK unfortunately =(
    And tanks nowadays tend to generate a lot damage – don’t feel embarrassed about that! On trash mob pulls of 3, the pally does 300 DPS with consecrate already, multiply that by the number of mobs and thats already 900 DPS they are dishing out. And then you factor in retribution aura and all that holy shield blocking…it gets pretty ridiculous especially with high reactive damage.
    Ha, i was tanking an instance on Saturday with a buffed Retribution Aura, buffed Thorns, and my passive talent that does 30% block value as damage. I was probably dealing 600-700 damage every time i was hit…reactive damage alone was 16% of all my damage done! how insane is that!!!

    anyways, see ya tomorrow =)

  5. December 1, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    i know it’s a late reply, but this post really had me thinking about combat vs. mutilate. coming from combat swords myself, it was a tough call to switch to mutilate, but there’s something about those nasty 5-point envenom crits that’s really satisfying.

    my DPS earlier today during a normal gundrak run wasn’t great, which had me thinking about switching over to combat daggers. i wasn’t able to find a build that i liked so i just stuck with assassination and changed my opener to garrote. it made a big difference in the DPS contribution according to recount, so i’m going to stick with it for a while.

  6. 6 Warstory
    December 1, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve been combat swords through all my leveling. But, I didn’t get any epic swords in BC so my swords are pretty much geared towards being around level 65. So no big deal right…I’ll just get new ones anyway in WotLK? Wrong! All Vie found so far is daggers and fist weapons.

    I was just wondering…I’ve been doing quests and running UK(need to try out Nexus) when will I start seeing any swords? I’m not a number cruncher so they don’t have to be perfect. As of right now, I’m using a dagger and a fist weapon on a combat sword build so Im sure you can see why I am frustrated.

    Ok, if I cant get any swords for a while would the mutilate build be easy to learn how to use if all I’ve done is combat swords? Basically I just want to know exactly what my attack chain should look like when using a mutilate build and why. Thanks for any help.

    PS- Help a noob out, donate your knowledge 8^)

  7. December 2, 2008 at 8:55 am

    I have never used swords, so I’m not able to come up with a good Nothrend sword off the top of my head. I know that there will be quest rewards better than what you are using now. The best resource to find weapons is probably the Shadowpanther.com web site. His rankings are not agreed upon by everyone, but its a nice organized list with drop locations.

    For a Mutilate build, you should go all the way up to Hunger for Blood in the Assassination tree. I can’t link to a build from work, but I’ll try to get something linked later.

    Your rotation is somewhat fluid depending on procs and combo points. Generally you Mutilate once, get SnD going, then start in on a rotation. Something like this…

    Hunger for Blood x3 before you start
    Tricks of the Trade (if level 75+)
    Use your Opener of choice
    SnD to get it going
    Envenom, just to boost SnD (make sure to get the Envenom off before SnD drops)
    Rupture (should have 4 or 5 combo pts)

    and repeat Rupture/Envenom cycles. Always make sure that you Envenom before SnD drops.

    The hard part is working Hunger for Blood in there. When HfB duration is approaching zero, you have to judge how much time is left on SnD, how much energy you have, etc… Its better to let HfB drop than to let SnD drop. Try to hit HfB every so often to keep it at a 3-stack.

  8. 8 Warstory
    December 3, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Thats awsome…thats exactly what I needed to figure out the build. Thanks so much for taking the time to do that for me.

  9. December 15, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Dunno if this is any good,

    im a bit of a macro man and as i came from combat spec i probally like to spam 1 button. I wrote this macro but realised there is a flaw, see if you can spot it.

    /castsequence reset=5 mutilate(rank6),mutilate(rank6),sliceanddice,hungerforblood,mutilate(rank6),mutilate(rank6),rapture(highest rank),hungerforblood

    now i know i have made the mistake of adding slice & dice, what i am going to do is this now
    start with
    hfb X 3

    /castsequence reset=5 hungerforblood,mutilate(rank6),mutilate(rank6),rapture(highest rank),mutilate(rank6),mutilate(rank6),envenom

    replace the ablities with there correct names from your spell book before you apply macro.

    With the new macro i will be keeping my hfb up and slice and dice while i run and dodge all the boss abilities in Naxx.

    I was doing last night between 1300-2200 DPS on my previous macro, tonight with my improvment i should increase that by adding envenom.

    Hopefully i will get a decent offhand dagger soon and increase my numbers.

    Check out my build on Armory if you think this can help.


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