Welcome to our subtlety rogue guide for WoW Classic! Of all three damage-oriented specializations a rogue has access to, subtlety is definitely the rarest choice. Subtlety rogues don’t possess the raw damage potential of a combat rogue or assassination rogue, but they offer a significant boost to a raid’s overall melee damage with the use of Hemorrhage. While you may not top the DPS charts as a subtlety rogue, the playstyle is quite unique and fun, making an excellent choice for anyone who wants to play a non-traditional rogue!
This guide will cover the most important aspects of playing a subtlety rogue. This mainly covers everything you need to know about optimizing, including your stats to prioritize, enchants and consumables for added bonuses, and the professions you’ll want to take things to the next level. Nearly every race in the game can be a rogue, so we’ll also break down the best options there and any talent choices you’ll need to be aware of! To help you get the most out of your subtlety rogue, we’ll also cover your rotation and gameplay tips to put out the most damage possible.
While some classes are quite restrictive when it comes to picking a race, rogues are not. All of the alliance races can be a rogue, while only tauren are unable to be a rogue for the horde. Even though most races can play as a rogue, there are some clear favorites for both factions. Racial abilities play a huge role in determining which race is best for a given class, so there’s much more to picking a race than deciding based on which looks the best. Check out all racial abilities here, or take a look at your desired faction below!
Dwarf – Arguably the worst choice for alliance is a dwarf. They don’t offer any bonuses in the form of racial abilities or passives. Making matters worse, they naturally start with a low agility base value. Stoneform will give you +10% Armor, which might help you survive longer on a few encounters, but is overall fairly insignificant as a subtlety rogue.
Gnome – Unfortunately gnomes aren’t much better here unless you’re going for a thematic rogue, in which case ankle-biting gnomes are perfect. Gnomes have a fantastic agility base value, but no racial abilities to boost their power. Escape Artist can be useful for removing slows, although is much better in PvP settings.
Human – Humans are the preferred race for the other two rogue specializations, but this isn’t the case for subtlety rogues. As a subtlety rogue, you will only use daggers, making Sword Specialization useless. Solid base values for all character stats is nice, but not enough to make it a clear favorite.
Night Elf – While night elves might not offer any offensive racial bonuses for a rogue, there is some natural synergy with the pairing. Night elves start with the highest base agility value of all races, and also have a stronger Stealth thanks to Shadowmeld. This is what makes a night elf the best option, seeing as subtlety is focused around the use of Stealth and don’t benefit from playing as a human.
Undead – For another theme-oriented rogue, undead are a great choice thanks to great animations and overall appearance. Unfortunately, they have weak agility and strength base values, and use of Will of the Forsaken doesn’t really have much use in raiding environments.
Troll – A great choice of horde subtlety rogue is a troll. Trolls have excellent strength and agility base values, making them a natural choice for a melee attacker. Not only that, but they also have Berserking, which will increase attack speed based on missing health. Much of your damage comes from auto attacks, so increasing the frequency of these attacks is a great way to boost your damage.
Orc – The best option for any rogue, even one using a subtlety build, is an orc. The reason is simple: Blood Fury. Blood Fury is the best racial ability in the game for a melee attacker. It gives you +25% Melee Attack Power for a whole 25 seconds, and has just a 2 minute cooldown. That means that orcs have +25% Melee Attack Power for about a quarter of the time they’re in combat, which means that they’ll average out to at least +5% more attack power across a whole fight (thanks to Blood Fury) compared to other races.
Talent choices are more restrictive when it comes to playing a subtlety rogue. Even though a subtlety rogue isn’t designed to pump out the most damage, you’ll still need to select specific talents so your DPS is at least reasonable. Due to the nature of subtlety talents, you’ll need to use daggers to play a subtlety rogue.
This 7/13/31 build should serve as a great starting point. It goes deep enough in the subtlety tree to pick up all relevant talents, while also making sure to take 3 points in Improved Backstab for extra crit chance and 5 points in Precision to give you a cool 5% hit rating. Most of your flexibility concerns the assassination tree. If you’re flush with hit rating, you can drop some points in Precision and Improved Backstab to pick up Murder, put another point in Ruthlessness, and ultimately take Lethality for a 6% crit damage bonus to Backstab, Ghostly Strike, Hemorrhage, Gouge, and Sinister Strike.
Optimizing is an important part of getting the most out of any character. Despite a slightly different playstyle, most of the theorycrafting behind optimization that applies to assassination and combat rogues also applies to a subtlety rogue. Your focus is still on doing the most damage you can, even though the specialization isn’t the best of the three for doing so.
One of the most important things to understand before you even start to optimize is the priority you should follow in regards to acquiring stats. There are multiple useful stats that can help a rogue deal more damage, but electing to choose one stat over another can result in a significant damage bonus as they all provide different effects.
Use this stat priority for subtlety rogues:
Hit Rating to Cap (9%) – As a melee attacker, you’ll still need to reach at least 9% hit rating. This is kind of a joke thanks to 5% from the Precision talent, but you’ll definitely need to keep an eye on your hit rating if you’re flexing points out of Precision. Missing attacks is the quickest way to lower your damage output.
Agility – After ensuring you’re at the soft hit cap, you’ll want to load up on as much agility as you can find. Not only does agility provide you with some attack power at a 1:2 ratio, but it will also give you critical strike rating! Double the effectiveness – what’s not to love?
Strength/Attack Power – Just below agility is both strength and attack power. While they are separate stats, the two function almost identically. Strength is converted to attack power at a 1:1 ratio for subtlety rogues, meaning the two are equally important for boosting the damage of your attacks.
Critical Strike Rating – After loading up on strength and attack power, feel free to use whatever critical strike rating you can find! You already have multiple talents to help boost crit chance, making the stat a little less effective, but it always feels nice to do double damage with an attack.
Another thing subtlety rogues need to be aware of is their weapon skill. You’ll be using daggers the entire time you play as subtlety, so you should naturally reach 300 weapon skill in daggers. If you hadn’t done so, you’re vulnerable to land glancing blows on enemies, which severely reduce the damage of an attack. Weapon skill also gives a slight boost to hit rating, so there’s a lot of incentive to maxing your weapon skill.
You’ll want to level your weapon skill for these bonuses each skill level up:
0.04% reduced chance to miss.
0.04% reduced chance of opponent blocking attack.
0.04% reduced chance of opponent parrying attack.
0.04% reduced chance of opponent dodging attack.
0.04% increased critical strike chance.
The professions you choose typically won’t make or break you, but they can make a difference in how enjoyable the game is. Professions can give you helpful offensive bonuses, but they’re generally more desirable for the non-combat benefits they provide. Some professions will directly boost your damage, but others are great choices for gold generation, which can turn into consumables. Seeing that consumables boost your damage, this makes professions a great way of indirectly boosting your damage too.
Subtlety rogues benefit the most from these four profession choices:
Engineering – The most popular profession in the game is engineering, and for great reason. Engineering allows you to create useful tools and gadgets, like Goblin Jumper Cables XL, which give a chance to resurrect a fallen ally. It also allows you access to bombs, like Goblin Sapper Charge, which are great for area-of-effect damage.
Mining – There’s no sense in taking engineering if you aren’t planning on taking mining too. Electing to level up mining will allow you to gather all the necessary metal ores needed for engineering.
Leatherworking – Another decent choice here is leatherworking. As a leatherworker, you can craft leather armor to help you get a head start on gearing up a fresh level 60. Dragonscale leatherworkers can craft Devilsaur Armor, which grants +2% hit chance with both pieces of the set.
Skinning – To make your life much simpler, pick up skinning if you want to be a leatherworker. This will allow you to skin beasts, which drop the required leather for all the recipes you’ll need to craft.
Optimization just wouldn’t be complete without a nice fat list of enchants for each applicable gear slot. Subtlety rogues have several useful enchants that offer attack power or agility bonuses, both great for directly boosting your damage. Some of these are quite expensive, so don’t worry about them until you have gear you know you’ll be using for a long time.
Your subtlety rogue will be incomplete without these enchants:
Another important part of your subtlety rogue repertoire is a nice collection of consumables for raid night. You won’t need as much as tanks or healers, but you will require the use of rogue-exclusive poisons. Considering how lax your consumable requirements are, there’s no reason to neglect them and deprive your raid of extra damage.
Subtlety rogues benefit the most from these consumables:
Subtlety rogues are quite a unique class to play as. Their Hemorrhage ability is very useful for boosting melee damage, but it does take up one of the 16 debuff slots. This means that you probably won’t get to play as subtlety unless you’re part of a melee-heavy raid. There are several useful debuffs that offer more than a hemo build, but that doesn’t mean a raid group using Hemorrhage is incapable of clearing any content in the game!
Here are some gameplay tips for a subtlety rogue:
You’ll need to learn how to properly use all your cooldowns as they have varying recharge times. Preparation is insanely powerful, instantly resetting the cooldown of all your other abilities (like Vanish and Evasion), but has a 10 minute cooldown. Make sure you only use it when all your other abilities are on cooldown. Premeditation adds 2 combo points to a target and has a 2 minute cooldown, so use it whenever it is available.
Likewise, you’ll also need to understand when to use defensive cooldowns, all requiring 5 minutes to recharge. Evasion boosts your dodge by 50% for 15 seconds, Blind will disorient a target enemy for 10 seconds, Sprint increases your movement speed by 70% for 15 seconds, and Vanish instantly puts you into stealth. Once everything is on cooldown, feel free to use Preparation.
As a subtlety rogue, your biggest advantage is the use of Stealth. Unfortunately this only lasts until you start combat, but you can typically use Sap and remain in stealth thanks to 3 points in Improved Sap. This allows you to make riskier crowd-controlling attempts.
Unlike the assassination and combat specializations, you’ll need to pay closer attention to Slice and Dice considering that you don’t have Improved Slice and Dice. It lasts just 21 seconds, likely meaning you’ll fit at least one fewer casts of Eviscerate in between Slice and Dice refreshes compared to the timing of a 30 second buff. Don’t forget to keep it applied as the 30% attack speed is a phenomenal bonus.
This build tries to take advantage of the Ruthlessness talent, which with 2 points gives a 40% chance to apply a combo point when using a finisher. When this effect procs, it reduces the number of casts required to use another finisher by 20%, meaning more Evisceratecasts.
As your choice of poison, only use Instant Poison IV. If you’re a horde player, only put this on your offhand weapon so you can benefit from a shaman’s Windfury Totem. Deadly Poison Vis stronger, but it takes up another pesky debuff slot!
One thing that separates a subtlety rogue from the other two specializations is a more-robust rotation. Rather than using just one combo-point generator and alternating between finishers, subtlety rogues will need to keep Hemorrhage applied in addition to their regular rotation. They also make great use of stealth abilities, creating the biggest splash when you choose to open with Ambush.
Considering that Hemorrhage is the biggest reason why a subtlety rogue would be brought to raid, keeping this applied is your top priority. It lasts 30 charges, which can go fairly quick in a 40 man raid environment. After applying Hemorrhage, you’ll want to use Ghostly Strike as it is more energy-efficient than Backstab and has a 20 second cooldown.
You’ll then need to weave between keeping Hemorrhage applied and using Backstab for more damage. Typically you’ll alternate, but you may have opportunities to use two casts of Backstab in between Hemorrhage applications. When you’re maxed out on combo points, you apply Slice and Dice if it isn’t already active, or use Eviscerate for pure damage.