Subtlety in 6.0.2

With the Warlords of Draenor pre-patch coming out tomorrow, I’ve decided to finally get off on my tush and write about what’s going on with Subtlety.  I’ll start with a description of what’s changing, then move on to what’s staying the same, and finally talk about what you’ll need to change.  Keep in mind that this article is coming from the perspective of a raider, and as such I will not be explaining every change or ramification, but only the ones I deem relevant for raiding.  This is also somewhat geared towards what we’ll be seeing at level 100 rather than on live, however I will try to distinguish between these two when the difference is relevant.

Subtlety:  It’s different…

The devs went through a huge amount of iteration with Subtlety.  They tried having Hemorrhage and Crimson Tempest’s DoT roll over through refreshes making them spammable, having Backstab and Ambush multistrikes give extra ticks from our DoTs, removing Premeditation, making Hemo way better than Backstab, making Hemo way worse than Backstab, and probably some other things.

Here’s what they ended up doing:

  • Not specific to Subtlety, but all of our buffs/debuffs can be refreshed early and get up to 30% of their original duration tacked on, making refreshing our buffs/debuffs a lot easier.
  • Hemorrhage really wants to be worse than Backstab, and mostly succeeds.  (More on this later.)
  • Backstab and Ambush multistrikes cause our DoTs to advance forward 2 seconds, gaining exactly one tick’s worth of damage for all DoTs (Hemo/Garrote now tick every 2 secs).
  • At level 100, Vanish will have a 1.5 minute cooldown due to a leveling perk.
  • At level 100, Fan of Knives will grant a Combo Point for every target hit.
  • At level 100, Shadow Dance will last 10 seconds instead of 8.
  • Some stuff got better and some stuff got worse, but not so much that we care.
  • Some other things, but we don’t care.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of changes that seem relevant.

…but also, the same…

Here’s the thing:  As much as they changed Subtlety, the spec as a whole really isn’t all that different.  In MoP, our goal was to maximize uptime on Slice and Dice, Rupture, Hemorrhage, and Find Weakness, while being smart about cooldown usage.  With these changes, our goal will be to maximize uptime on Slice and Dice, Rupture, Hemorrhage (we’ll get there), and Find Weakness, while being smart about cooldown usage.  Note how close those look!

When it comes down to it, all these changes to Subtlety actually mean very little.  Well, except for the Fan of Knives one, that’s actually about as big of a deal as it looks.

At this point you might well be wondering if any of these changes are relevant to you.  If you are like most rogues, they aren’t, because you don’t raid as Subtlety.  However, for the three of you that do, the answer is yes.

…but actually, different.

All of those changes that didn’t actually change anything are surprisingly impactful.  It’s not that what we want to do is different, but rather what the best way of achieving that is.  I’ve been doing a lot of mucking around in SimulationCraft and have come upon some interesting findings.

Disclaimer time:  Everything that I’m saying after this point comes from mucking around with SimulationCraft.  When possible, I cross-checked with my character’s ShadowCraft.  The theorycrafting you see here is only as good as me and the tools I used, which is to say, distinctly questionable but notably alright.  As always, if something looks fishy, feel free to inquire or investigate, but please refrain from calling me an idiot without backing it up with evidence.

Here’s a list of things:

  • Shadow Focus is now significantly better than Subterfuge, which is now slightly better than That Other One.
  • Pooling energy before Vanish doesn’t matter as much as you thought.  (Pooling energy before Shadow Dance probably does matter as much as you thought.)
  • With sufficient levels of Multistrike, Hemo Weaving is a thing of the past.  (READ:  If you are level 90, Hemo Weave.)  Hemorrhage continued to be useful for keeping up Sanguinary Veins, and is better than Backstab if the Sinister Calling multistrike mechanic will cause Sanguinary Veins to expire.  Because that’s not confusing at all.
  • Garrote is comically bad and should never be used.  Ever.
  • Because of Sinister Calling’s multistrike mechanic, refreshing Rupture as early as possible without losing ticks is recommended, though at level 90 this is mostly just practice for when you get relevant levels of multistrike.

The Takeaway

As confusing as this all is, the takeaway is actually pretty simple.  If you liked Subtlety in MoP, you’ll probably like it in Warlords.  I’m hesitant to say whether the changes make the spec funner or not, because that’s really quite subjective.  For sure the experience will be different, but at the core the two iterations of the spec are close enough that I doubt very many people will change their mind about the spec.  Well, until Draenor at least, when people pick up the uber leetness that is Empowered Fan of Knives.

EDIT:  So I wrote this last night and I almost ended it with a line long the lines of “That is, until Blizzard decides to nerf Hemo Weaving.”  This morning I saw that they are buffing Backstab, but apparently that will be accompanied with a buff to Hemo, so I’m not quite as amazing at predictions as I thought.  Darn.

Subtlety Multistrike Mechanic

This post is my analysis of Subtlety’s new multistrike mechanic that is currently slated for delivery in 6.o, Warlords of Draenor.  Because this post is primarily for theorycrafters, I will be assuming a fair bit more familiarity with math and class mechanics than I usually do.  This post will be broken up into n sections.  In the first, I will describe the mechanic.  In the second, I will list some of the questions theorycrafters have been asking regarding the mechanic.  In this third, I will dump the raw data for work that I have done.  Finally, in the fourth section I will do some analysis.  If you are considering reading this because you are wondering if I will stop sounding like an automaton, then I suggest you instead play some Warcraft.


The Mechanic

Subtlety’s multistrike mechanic, which for now on we will call SC as it is attached to the Sinister Calling passive, reads “When you multistrike with Backstab or Ambush, you also twist the blade, causing all of your Bleed effects to instantly tick an additional time.”  What this translates to is simply, “Your bleeds make Backstab stronger.”

At this point I should mention that making Backstab stronger is quite important for Subtlety, as without this mechanic Backstab does less damage than Hemorrhage on Beta.



  1. How should Hemorrhage be woven into the rotation?  This is the main question.  Since Hemorrhage without multistrike deals more damage than Backstab, it is reasonable to assume that at normal levels of multistrike Hemorrhage might deal more damage than Backstab still, until the Hemo bleed increases Backstab’s potency to the point where it is more powerful.
  2. How should Crimson Tempest be woven into the rotation?  Although Crimson Tempest does much less damage than Eviscerate, it applies a bleed which could lead to Backstab picking up the slack.
  3. How should Garrote be woven into the rotation?  Same deal as the others, though it is important to compare Garrote coming out of Vanish (with MoS and compared to a 60 energy Ambush) and in Shadow Dance (no MoS and 40 energy Ambush).
  4. How do questions 1 and 2 change during during Find Weakness?  Because the Hemorrhage and Crimson Tempest bleeds are based on the damage of the initial hit, the bleed snapshots, making these abilities more potent during Find Weakness compared to their alternatives (Backstab and Eviscerate).
  5. How do questions 1-3 change with gear?  Higher actions per minute and more multistrike are likely to impact the rotation, perhaps substantially.
  6. At low levels of multistrike, how does our rotation change, and is it reasonable to fully forsake the stat until we get enough?  If you are using gear with 0 multistrike on it (so 5% base MS), Backstab may never be worth it, making a full Hemo build optimal and potentially encouraging pulling stats farther away from multistrike, similar to how armor penetration worked in Wrath where it was bad until a specific breakpoint.
  7. Procs.  What the heck do we do about temporary power gains?  This is especially relevant given that our weapon enchant will likely give a multistrike buff.
  8. If we find that at a certain gear set weaving on average n Hemorrhages at a given time is optimal, how far away from optimal is that rotation?  Basically, the point where you want to stop using Hemo and start using Backstab is when the extra tick damage gets high enough.  This means that if on average we are to weave 3 Hemorrhages before using Backstab but the first two crit and double mulstistrike, then our bleed damage will be high enough that it would be optimal to use Backstab.  If this damage difference across a whole fight is large enough, then it could cause people to seek the help of addons, trivializing the rotation.  In many ways, this is the main concern with this mechanic.




With the help of Fierydemise’s APM calculations, I made a spreadsheet that crudely models the damage of Backstab and Hemorrhage and tries to answer question 1.  It has limited support for stats, but you can change the numbers for amount of bleeds on the target.  It makes the false assumption that Hemorrhage and Backstab both cost 35 energy, which means among other things that it will be slightly biased towards Backstab.  The purpose of this spreadsheet is not to be accurate, as much as it is to determine around where the breakpoints for the stats are.  I have enabled editing on this so that people can play with the numbers of bleeds, APM, and multistrike, but I would request that after playing with it you return it to the format you found it in.  The numbers that are there at the moment are accurate as of a few builds ago.

Feel free to change the haste, mulstistrike, crit, and bleed amounts.  Also when you change the haste rating make sure to verify that the APM number actually changed, because I added those later and think there may be some jankiness with it.  Worth noting, the stats I took were me gearing specifically for multistrike using the PvP gear you can purchase, which is to say it is probably a bit more biased than is realistic.  Oh, and I should mention that the Hemo_nC where n is 0/1/2 is how I represent how many ticks have been spent on each Hemo since the last time it refreshed.  That is, if you use Hemo once, then you have hemo_0C set to 1 and the rest set to 0.  If you used Hemo 3 times in a row, then that is using Hemo twice, letting a tick go, and then using it the final time, so you have Hemo_0C set to 1, Hemo_1C set to 2, and Hemo_2C set to 0.

Link to spreadsheet:  (link)

Copy of spreadsheet that you can’t edit (for reference):  (link)

Dummy Testing

Unfortunately the computer I’m on doesn’t have the text file that I saved the data on, but I tested some simple rotation on Beta against the Mythic Test Dummies in Shattrath on Beta.  The rotation was simplified, I was using no cooldowns, and for my relevant talents Anticipation (duh) and Lemon Zest.

Each trial lasted over 5 minutes and most were done with a multistrike heavy gearset.  Some later on were done with substantially less multistrike in order to test question 5, but the primary questions being tested were 1 and 2.

Raid Testing

Thanks to Ninjablaze and the kind folks at <Victory of Whatever> I was able to try out Subtlety during Tuesday’s heroic raid testing.  WOO!  During the tests I kept logs on Skada and have some findings that may be worthwhile but are probably so corrupted by RNG as to be meaningless.  At the very least though I got some interesting findings on questions 6.




Due to the faulty assumptions, the major finding of the spreadsheet is that on some level it makes sense to weave some number of Hemorrhages and Backstabs.  It is also reasonable to guess that the number of Hemorrhages woven should be reasonable high, in the 4-6 range.  In practice, it is difficult to weave more than 5 Hemorrhages due to the amount of energy pooling required and the fact that you have to fit a finisher in there too, but we’ll talk about that a bit more later.  As for the stat weights, the spreadsheet mostly indicates that the number of Hemorrhages woven is reasonable dynamic, such that if this mechanic makes it to live we will probably have to support variable numbers of Hemorrhages in our rotation.

Dummy Testing

First, keep in mind there is an implicit “under the testing conditions” qualifier for all of this.  Also keep in mind that while I did not use anything that provided temporary power gains besides the weapon enchants, there is RNG in these.

When testing Full Hemo and Full Backstab rotations, Full Hemo came out ahead.  This is in-line with the data I had available but verifying it is always nice.  The practical applications are that if you want to be lazy and just use one generator out of stealth, have it be Hemorrhage.

DPS peaked weaving 4-5 Hemorrhages depending on gear, and showed a fairly substantial difference between the low-Hemo rotations, indicating that we might have issues with proper weaving being too important – we’ll see.  At any rate, I would say it definitely makes sense to add support for multiple levels of Hemo weaving into ShadowCraft.

I did not attempt weaving 6 Hemos, as that would have been a great deal of pooling, and required using a finisher in the middle.  Long story short, I don’t think it will be practical, however I could very well be wrong.

Even without using any Hemorrhages, Crimson tempest was not worth it.  It remains to be seen whether better gear (higher APM, more Mastery) will change this.

Raid Testing

First of all, Subtlety appears to be the best spec for kicking hunter BUTT in DPS, so good thing I was there!

For the first boss I was using a premade character with 0 mulstistrike on gear, though was fully enchanted, fooded, and flasked for multistrike.  I started out with a 4-Hemorrhage rotation and had some success, though on that fight it is difficult to measure success as magical damage does not show up on meters.  Later I switched to full mastery enchants/food/flask and a full Hemo rotation and saw an increase in my DPS, although that was only for a few attempts so it may well have been RNG.  That said, forsaking multistrike and going full Hemo if moderate-high levels of multistrike are unattainable is worth looking into.

For the two other tests I used a level 100 premade with high-multistrike gear and a 4-Hemo rotation for all attempts.  All I can say is the pacing and feel of the spec is pretty good with that rotation.


Thhhhhhhat’s all folks!

If you have questions or anything to add, please feel free to join the discussion on the Subtlety multistrike mechanic at the theorycrafting forum!