Switching From Mutilate to Combat Swords

Ninja AssassinMutilate?  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.

And yet…

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

I looked online at several specs, read all of the talent descriptions, and looked to blogs and EJ for suggestions.  I decided to go with a 15/51/5 sword spec to start with.

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.


26 Responses to “Switching From Mutilate to Combat Swords”

  1. 1 Hamacus
    July 31, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    “If one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi. If you wish to become a complete and wise Jedi leader, you must embrace a larger view of The Force.”

    LOL….could not resist.

  2. 2 Hamacus
    July 31, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    P.S. Good insight and I have done the same thing in reverse,(how does that work?), LOL. Started Combat but have not had the fortune of getting any great weapons though I have noticed that movement fights really hurt your DPS.

  3. 3 Saniel
    July 31, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    Best. Blog post picture. Ever.

  4. July 31, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    Whoa. I rate a Sith Lord quote AND a greatest picture comment. This is historic!

  5. July 31, 2009 at 10:09 pm

    Stick with it, the DPS will get better. Our gear is quite similar and I am using the exact same weapons except with Mongoose (still hoping for drops). Our Mutilate rogue hasn’t raided with us in a while so I don’t have anything to compare to but I hit almost 4k DPS on Emalon have hit 6.9k on Patchwerk while missing some possible buffs (only 20 members in raid). Also, my rotations are far from perfect.

  6. 6 Adam
    August 1, 2009 at 3:58 am

    I have only ever raided combat swords, so I’ll throw my 2 cents into the mix. Obviously the weak point of the build is the lack of a good opener from stealth, garrote just doesn’t cut it on most fights. So I just start most fights by running straight in there, usually a sprint after dropping Tricks on the tank. I’ll then drop Killing Spree immediately to get some nice threat going and then hit the dual purpose Blade Flurry and Adrenalin rush, as long as the boss doesn’t have any fancy moves in the first 30 seconds that cause you to lose your cool-downs. If you lose your cool-downs on a boss you can basically kiss your dps goodbye for that fight.

    I then time my next two cool-downs as blade flurry and killing spree together, as Adrenalin rush has a longer wait time. If there’s enough time I can then use the AR+BF combo one more time in the fight.

    Also, obviously you can never let slice & dice drop, ever. But a real skill in playing combat is to be able to let it run down right to the last second if possible. A lot of cookie-cutter combat rotation guides have you hitting S&D again if it’s below 10 seconds. You are going to waste a great deal of potential dps if you do this. Also, as a 5 point finisher gives you combo points, (often 2), you can finish and then hit S&D again with those points generated. This “living on the S&D edge” in combat can really make a big difference to your damage output.

    I hate you for getting the nightblade 😦

  7. 7 Quench
    August 1, 2009 at 7:15 am

    I could have wrote the same story word for word, except im still stuck with hailstorm as OH. It sure takes a bit of practice to match the dps from mutilate with the switch, i really wish that cqc and ss were on the same tier, the filler points needed for swords sucks as they would be way more useful in throwing specialisation.

    I found that sticking to any type of rotation really limits the spec, it needs to be fluid and decision based, do you pool or eviscerate and let rupture drop seems to be the most dps changing decision especially on target switching fights.

    What really sucks is the weapon progression through 10 man raids, im still using anarchy and omen of ruin, and LPC is still slightly better dps on the spreadsheet, i think blizz has screwed the 10 man only mutilate rogue when all the 2h wielding raiders in my guild get the mace off FL.

    @Adam, combine Blade flurry with killing spree, not adrenalin rush, you’ll get much better results……..

  8. 8 Hamacus
    August 1, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    “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”.

    First off…Gratz on Golem-Shard Sticker last night. You don’t know how hard it was to delete the /roll. Second move along, nothing to see her, this is not the combat spec you are looking for. JK, but leave some loot for me! I guess if I post it on your blog it will come.

  9. 9 Hamacus
    August 2, 2009 at 12:22 am

    O.K. all. If you EVER want any loot in game just talk about it here and you will get it! Just got Razorscale Talon….LOL.

  10. 10 Dawyn (of Aman'thul-US)
    August 4, 2009 at 7:43 am

    “Emalon was a different story. Running away from his AoE bursts disrupted my rotations”

    As a Combat Fist/Dagger Rogue, I always pop feint and stay in for Lightning Nova.

    “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.”

    When Emalon overcharges a Tempest Minion, I used to switch targets to the add, build up 3 combo points, use Slice and Dice, then get back on the boss. Even though this sometimes refreshed Slice and Dice too early, I think it is better than letting Slice and Dice drop off.

    Remember to fully use your energy, so that it will not cap while running between boss and adds.

    Now with better gear for the raid, I just stay on Emalon as the adds dies so fast even without me. Same for other fights like Hodir, Auriaya, XT-002 Deconstructor, etc.

  11. August 4, 2009 at 12:01 pm

    I don’t think I’d stay in through the Lightning Nova in a PuG where I didn’t know the healers.

  12. August 4, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    This Combat Swords experiment may have come to an end. Thank you XT-001 for the Golem-Shard Sticker!

  13. 13 Flattery
    August 7, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I just switched to mutilate this week since I was having trouble getting a fist MH for CQC combat spec. The rotation is more complicated timing wise than combat. Although I plan to go back to combat if I secure swords or axes, I find I am enjoying the spec. My DPS is crap as I try to nail the rotation, I am barely creeping over 3k DPS at this point (still have 4 blues, hope that’s a reason).

    I might as well ask, what is the optimal rotation for mute? I’ve been opening with garrote, pop HfB, SnD, mutilate to 4 combo, envenom, mutilate to 4 combo, rupture, and continue.

  14. August 8, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    I enjoy playing Mutilate more than combat, although currently my combat spec is doing more damage.

    When you say 3k dps, in what location? 3k dps is good for heroics when you have few buffs and combat ends quickly. If that’s an a 25 man raid, though, then its low. How does it compare to the other dps in your group?

    For Mutilate, the rotation you listed is what you should be doing. If you’re running with a feral druid then you can open with Ambush instead of Garrote since the druid will put a bleed to allow you to start HfB.

    Just make sure you keep an eye that your HfB doesn’t drop. SnD is the priority so Envenom with fewer than 4-5 combo points if necessary to refresh SnD. With Cut to the Chase, SnD should never drop, though.

    Mutilate doesn’t have any cooldowns to pop to get a dps boost (other than Cold Blood for a single crit). The way to maximize your dps is to be really efficient with your rotation. The closer you can get to 100% Rupture uptime without overwriting previous Ruptures, the better.

    Mutilate dps is very gear dependent, and with no cooldowns it really benefits from synergies with other classes to get its best output. Is there a feral druid or arms warrior in the raid to put an increased bleed damage debuff on the boss? Is there a combat rogue for the Savage Combat debuff? Ret paladin for Swift Retribution? DK Horn of Winter? Hunter Trueshot Aura? These will have a significant effect on your dps numbers.

  15. 15 Tyno
    August 10, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Hi, I’ve always worried about my dps since I don’t know any other rogues on my server, and have only played as rogue in patch 3.x+, as mutilate with 2x Knife of Incision and keeping SnD, Rupture and HfB up all the time can only just reach above 2.4k dps. I have played around with my spec and looked a fair few others setups of glyphs etc to get the best dps and only manage 2.4k solo unbuffed. I have half epics (213 level gear) and the rest are purple, but I have seen a combat sword rogue with half blues getting over 2k unbuffed, any clue if my dps is up scratch? Btw I leveled as combat from 1-80 so got bored of that, tried raiding as combat daggers and swords but couldn’t manage to do well, mutilate was a vast improvement.

    Rogue: Ayed, Dreadmaul (US).

    I noticed my brother in half blues as tank spec/gear feral druid can outdps me unbuffed.

  16. August 11, 2009 at 10:34 am


    2.4k dps on what? If that is completely unbuffed, then its really not bad. Rogue dps scales a LOT with raid buffs. If you can get 2.4k dps unbuffed, you should be well over 3k when buffed.

    That said, it only takes small changes to get your damage to increase.

    First – keeping SnD, Rupture, and HfB up all the time is good, but the trick is in the details. You should try and tweak your rotation so that you are refreshing Rupture at the last second before it expires or even just after it expires, rather than overwriting a previous Rupture. Same with HfB. Every time your refresh HfB you are using up a global cooldown. Don’t refresh anything more than you have to. It wastes global cooldowns and combo points.

    Your envenoms will refresh your SnD for you, but try not to envenom with fewer than 4 combo points.

    Make sure you are above the poison hit cap (315 hit rating) so that your poisons will not be resisted.

    One other suggestion – Knife of Incision is nice, but better as a main hand dagger. To build Deadly Poison stacks quickly for your envenoms, you’d like a faster offhand without downgrading too much to get it. Webbed Death (from Anub-Rekhan 25) or Murder (from Sapphiron 25) would be nice upgrades at your gear level. Until you get those, you can grab Namlak’s Supernumary Sticker from the auction house. Its got the same dps as the Knife of Incision, but is faster, and so it should improve your dps.

    You can practice your rotation on a target dummy. Make small changes, like waiting to refresh Rupture, and see if it has an effect.

  17. August 15, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Hi guys,

    I love this thread! getting quite some good info on some general issues. And i’d like to add a question.

    I’m not a math-expert but why does everyone chooses the relentless strike instead of putting your last tpoint in vigor in combo with its major glyph. instead of a 20% chance your FM will give you 25 energy, you’ll get a 20 energy bonus. And i expect the vitality will regenerate 25% of 120 energy instead of 100.

    with a 5 point relentless strike on 20 finishes, you’ll get 5x 25 energy = 125
    with a 4 point relentless strike on 20 finishes, you’ll get 3or4x 25 energy = 75or100

    anyone a oppinion on this? i havent benchmarked the difference…

    Dinear thnx for this post!

    Arawnous of ravenholdt

  18. 18 Tyno
    August 16, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Ok, thanks for the response.

    I was wondering about Hit and Exp ratings, all my gems have either hit, exp or both since it seemed vital to not be missing stuff, at the moment I have 377 Hit Rating (11.5%) + 5% Precision = 16.5% and 199 Expertise (24/24, 6%). While these are high it would seem stacking crit might be better with the +2 energy on every crit, I only have 26% Crit + 2% Poison Talent and 3.1k AP unbuffed.

    My concern is that when I start heroic or raid groups everyone pst stats to me and I see warriors with like 4.5k AP and mages with 2.4k SP and ridiculous crit rates, and my dps of 2.4k unbuffed doing near perfect rotations (refreshing at the last second, using vanish+garrote for more dam) and get people that do manage to pull more dps with what would seem less effort. Fully raid buffed, arms war, feral druid I can be near 4k depending on the fight or higher but apparently telling people I only get 2.4k seems to make people tell me to reroll, quit wow or “I pull better in my off spec gear /ignore Tyno”.

    I did voa with a rogue that was at 4.4k dps raid buffed with best everything and soon as he left the was in trade saying 4.4k dps rogue lfg heroics, I know he won’t pull that without the buffs but do people expect me to say what I pull at my best or worst when I look for groups, how do I know what I’ll do depending on the spec of the others?

    With the plague that is the melee dps on Blackrock on most servers atm I just don’t see why people would want to take a rogue when a warrior, dk, feral druid, ret pally could do just as well if not better and provide buffs I really can’t get raids with my time available and finding people to do heroics is hard, outside of “inv me ret pally 10k dps” that would make them look like they don’t need drops so why bother to inv.

    And armour pen, is it really as good as others say or is it just something you get on gear now like haste?

  19. 19 Tyno
    August 16, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Btw as a point of comparison I tried 2 specs of combat, one as backstab combat, the other as SS. My backstab combat spec unglyphed keep slice and dice up as expose armour nothing else I was pulling 2.2k Dps, with wound on MH, deadly on OH. I then tried doing SS spec still using my mutilate daggers and was at about 1.9k dps keeping SnD and Rup with glyphs for combat. The big thing I noticed as combat was that my combo points where coming up way less often then assas spec and the energy regen wasn’t enough to counter this. Blade flurry + Killing Spree + AR seemed to be less like nice dam buffs to be more like required just to keep dam up to near normal levels.

    As backstab spec I only have 48 points in combat so no killing spree and my main dam was backstab with massive crit chance. I was wondering if this would be a viable spec with tweaking since I can keep expose armour up and the 4% phys dam bonus for party + raid, though I was thinking of possibly going mainly into subt and trying a backstab spec next week and see how that goes.

  20. 20 Tyno
    August 16, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    @ Arawnous
    How does having 20 energy compete with longer SnD, Rup, or any other glyph + having a 20%chance at 25 energy seemes greater if your doing a long fight.

    Start 120 energy, do 20 finishers gaining 80.
    Start 100, do 20 finishers and gaining 100.

    Which would help more in a fight?
    Well if your doing any fight that you might have to move about a lot and possibly reach energy cap I can see where having vigor would be beneficial, but I’m not sure if I would want to glyph for it over something else.

  21. August 16, 2009 at 10:50 pm


    The 20 extra energy from Vigor is a one time bonus at the start of the fight. After that, your energy should never reach the max amount so its not useful. Relentless Strikes has a 25% chance to give you energy on every finisher through the whole fight. That adds up to much, much more energy over the course of a long boss fight. Vigor is only for short fights, like in PvP.

  22. August 16, 2009 at 10:57 pm


    Are you Mutilate or Combat? You reference the 2 energy per crit, which is Assassination. Then you ask about combat builds.

    Armor penetration is very good if you can stack a lot of it. If you can’t get it in large amounts, then its not worth trying to get more than you find normally on gear.

    Backstab combat is not going to be a good choice. Even Blizzard recently admitted that Combat Swords was not intended to be a raid-viable spec. And the positional requirements for backstab make using it in heroics very difficult. Every backstab you can’t so because of position is a loss of dps.

    Combat does have a slow build up of combo points. Almost all of your combo points will go toward keeping SnD and Rupture up. You won’t get a lot of Eviscerates off, so don’t look for big numbers in this build. You MUST use those cooldowns (BF, AR, KS) to keep your dps high. Use them every time they are up, and use them together on boss fights.

  23. 23 Arawnous
    August 17, 2009 at 9:45 am

    @dinaer: I’ve made one major mistake. the energy rating is fixed and doesn’t increase with vigor. Then the math is easy… Relentless strike it is…


  24. 24 Tyno
    August 17, 2009 at 10:56 am

    I am Mutilate spec setup for raids, I just toyed with combat talents to get an idea of how I’d go using the same gear. To be honest I think I end up having to dodge so many attacks in fights that having vigor may help moe than putting all 5 points in relentless. Also the benefit in trash mobs and heroics it could help that much more then relying on a proc.

  25. 25 Tyno
    August 17, 2009 at 11:27 am

    To be a little more specific here’s what I am looking to change to:
    I have 1 free point so far but since I think moving that into CQC and moving a point from Relent into CQC since I don’t always do 5 point finisher as is and extra crit is more energy. I am not using Quick Recovery since I hit finisher cap ages ago and am nearing poison cap and Murder helps for the majority of fights though is not so great in Naxx. Just my idea’s though so very possibly wrong since I just make stuff up as I go.

  26. August 18, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    You should definitely move points into CQC. You don’t really need any points in Improved SnD. Every time you Envenom it refreshes SnD due to the Cut to the Chase talent, so your SnD duration does not need to be extended. Take those two points and your one remaining point and put them in CQC.

    I’d leave all 5 points in Relentless Strikes. Energy is the biggest limiting factor for a Mutilate build, so any talent that gives you energy is worth maxing out.

    Nothing is “wrong” until you try it. If you’re not convinced, test it. Make your spec and then do a 5-minute dps test on a target dummy. Then change the spec, repeat and compare.

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Dinaer - 100 Assassination Rogue (US - Sen'Jin)
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