October 29, 2009

Encrypted Text: Leveling a rogue, level 11-50

Every Wednesday, Chase Christian of Encrypted Text invites you to enter the world of shadows, as we explore the secrets and mechanics of the rogue class. This week, we talk about leveling a rogue from level 11 to level 50.

As we discussed in the comments last week, rogues play fairly simple for the first several levels. Without any real finesse techniques and the simplest of opponents, there's no reason to do anything besides run up to an enemy and just start swinging away. It may not seem very rogue-like in nature, but that is because low level rogues are still learning the tricks of the trade.

The trip from 11 to 50 will be much of the same. We receive a few awesome new abilities that help us in a few situations, but until level 50, we don't really see any of rogue that you can expect to play at 80. Luckily, at 50, you get a completely new skill set that will rewrite how you play your rogue. With the mount changes to allow low levels to ride epic mounts, you'll be jetting around and having a great time questing and finding enemies to slay. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, you've still need to get to level 50 first, and so read on for full details on the process.

New abilities:
We receive several new ranks of the spells that I covered last week, which simply increase the potency of those attacks. The new techniques that are of interest include our full set of Stealth openers, a new pair of finishing moves, and a slew of utility abilities that you'll want to put on your hotbar ASAP. Combat will remain mostly the same, with your procedure being to spam Sinister Strike and Eviscerating / Slice and Dicing depending on the mob's remaning HP. Remember to pull one mob at a time and focus on quick individual kills instead of attacking multiple enemies at once. Rogues are designed to be single-target assassins and if you keep that idea in mind, your leveling experience will be far more enjoyable.

Starting with our new opener at level 14 we receive Garrote, one of our strongest openers against high armor mobs. This move alone should have you stealthing before every pull, so you can open with a Garrote and then start attacking. Unfortunately, we also receive Ambush at level18. Ambush is significantly more potent while leveling, especially if you have your hands on a good dagger. An Ambush will typically take a mob's life down significantly, and so you'll want to be using it exclusively.

Until you receive Cheap Shot, that is. Our true signature opener, Cheap Shot is the perfect mix of defensive and offensive potency. The mob is stunned for 4 seconds, meaning that it is unable to attack you. You also gain 2 combo points and the mob is similarly unable to dodge or parry any of your attacks. This allows you to gain combo points very quickly, and allows you to Eviscerate sooner, ending the fight. Once you hit level 26, make your way back to a trainer to pick this up. You'll be opening with it 95% of the time.

The first finisher you'll see while leveling is Expose Armor at level 14, though you won't be using it too often. It's nice against an elite, but you will typically want to use either Rupture or Eviscerate, depending on the mobs remaining life. Don't bother worrying too much about having a hotkey for EA. Our final finisher for the trip to 50 is Kidney Shot, received at level 30. It's a great move to use if you're low on life or fighting against a hard-hitting mob, but while leveling you typically care more about damage and less about control.

Thanks to some of the changes in WotLK, rogues have some new utility moves. We still receive Kick at level 12 (which should be a core hotkey like 'E' or 'Q') and Feint at level 16 (which is useless until you receive its highest level rank), but you should be focusing on the special technique we get at level 20. Dismantle worked its way into our arsenal at the expensive for the disarm effect from the talent Riposte: a fair trade by any measure. Dismantle is relatively cheap on energy, has a very short cooldown, and will significantly lower the DPS of a melee class attacking you. Use this every time it's up!

At level 22 you'll receive a rogue's signature defense: Vanish. Don't worry that the PTR change to Vanish was reverted, Ghostcrawler has already said that they're cooking up a newer, stronger fix! Vanish will save your life dozens of times while you're out questing and grinding. It can save you from a would-be ganker who now can't find you, or it can save you from an accidental over-pull. It works (pretty much always) if you're out fighting by yourself, and so if you're in trouble, don't hesitate to Vanish and think it over.

While you're in stealth, you can also use your other new ability you receive at 22: Distract. It used to see more use in the past where rogues were able to sneak past bosses and mobs in instances, but is almost unused in today's environments. I use it occasionally in the arena, and so I suggest using it a few times on mobs and players and observing their reactions. We also receive Safe Fall at level 40, which allows a rogue to fall from higher distances without taking damage. Now that you can take fall damage and remain in stealth, it's less important to know "exactly" how high you can drop without hurting yourself, but be sure to test this thoroughly and learn you falling limits!

Finally, we receive Blind at level 34. It's our core CC ability, usable in combat, no longer requires a rare and expensive reagent, and is on a measly 3 minute cooldown. It's awesome for situations where you pull an extra mob or a player is trying to interfere with your leveling. Blind them, Vanish, and get out of there! You can also use a macro to use Blind and then use a bandage, allowing you to safely heal while engaged in combat.

Rogues have 3 talent trees, all of which provide unique and interesting playstyles. Some rogues prefer the dagger-based Assassination tree, the brute force of the Combat tree, and the stealth and finesse of the Subtlety tree. I will be designing leveling specs for each of the 3 trees, and you can choose which you think is the best fit for you. I would suggest using Combat until level 50, as that is when the three trees really diverge from each other and bloom into their full potential. Up until that point, you're really going to be doing the same thing: beating up mobs using Sinister Strike.

If you decide to level as Assassination, here's a quick Assassination build you can work your way up to. We receive our first glyph slot at level 15 (one major, one minor), a second minor at level 30, and a second major at level 50. While leveling to 50, you should focus on matching your major glyph with the spec of your choice. Assassination will be using the Vigor glyph the Eviscerate glyph to start with, as it has great synergy with Improved Eviscerate. Once you receive Mutilate at level 50, grabbing the Mutilate glyph is a no-brainer. This spec focuses on poison damage and can be used as a Backstab build via daggers as well.

Combat rogues have a fairly simple playstyle, but their power early on is unquestioned. You'll be able to take on multiple mobs (well, 2!) and your toe-to-toe power is amazing. However, you're also likely to get pretty bored while playing it. Here's an example Combat build to follow. I don't focus on a particular weapon spec, as it allows you to use any weapons that drop as you're leveling up. Grab the Sinister Strike glyph as soon as you can, and you'll be getting extra combo points from critical Sinister Strikes. At level 50, the Adrenaline Rush or Blade Flurry glyph will likely serve you best.

Subtlety can have two flavors: daggers or slow weapons. I prefer a slow weapon Sub build, focusing on the strength of Hemorrhage (once glyphed). This build will provide the best energy management with Relentless Strikes, Hemo's low base energy cost, and Dirty Deeds to save you energy on your opening attacks. Opening with an Ambush is also desirable with this build, as Sub houses a ton of Ambush-boosting talents. With a potent opener and rapid strikes immediately afterwards, this spec comes into its own once you gain Shadowstep and all of its utility.

The leveling process from 11-50 is a lot of the same for most rogues, and so I warn you upfront to be wary of burning out. Ever class is fairly simple up until level 50, which is when most of our spec defining 41-pt talents become available. Once you're over the hill, you'll be able to focus on a particular spec and rotation in greater detail, start specializing your talent and equipment choices, and start molding yourself into the rogue you want to become.

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