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WoWJan 23, 2016 4:00 pm CT

Encrypted Text: Eight Rogue talents to hug (or stab) goodbye before Legion

Some of us see the poison vial as half full. “Whoa,” we say, “all three Rogue specs are getting a ton of changes in Legion! That means new rotations to learn, new tools to slot into our utility belts, and new deadly strategies to devise. So many exciting possibilities!”

Others of us see the poison vial as half empty: “Ugh,” we say, “all three Rogue specs are getting a ton of changes in Legion. That means we have to relearn everything, plus we’re losing a whole bunch of spells that we needed to keep from sucking. So much to be worried about!”

In reality, though, it’s not the fullness or emptiness of the vial that matters; it’s what’s inside it. Panacea or poison? Who knows: At this early stage in the Legion alpha, little, if anything, can be described as definitively good or bad.

Take our talents: of the 21 choices we currently have in Warlords of Draenor, only 13 look like they’ll make it through to Legion. Are those fallen leaves from our talent trees something to fear or embrace? Let’s take a closer look.

The talents, they’re everywhere

An important fact to keep in mind about how Rogue talents are evolving is that in the alpha, all but one of our talent tiers change depending on our spec. This is a big change from Warlords, where every tier was identical regardless of spec. We’re going from 21 talent options in Warlords (seven tiers with three options each) to a total of 43 different Rogue talents in the current Legion alpha.

But despite that explosion of new talent options for Assassination, Outlaw, and Subtlety, several of the talents we’re currently familiar with w0n’t survive the journey. Here are the eight that appear to be getting the axe.


Level 30 Tier: Combat Readiness, Deadly Throw, Nerve Strike

I’ve never fully understood our level 30 talent tier. Heavily oriented toward PVP benefits, it nonetheless lacked a consistent theme, with the value of each talent arguably crossing over the line that separates “niche” from “obscure.”

Combat Readiness: Dating back to Wrath, this was a relic of a bygone era when ramp-up mechanics were common (remember when Deadly Poison had to hit a target five times before it reached full potency?). It doesn’t make sense in the context of today’s game,where the return on investment in a defensive spell is usually much quicker.

There will likely be players sad to see Combat Readiness go — for instance, folks who enjoyed to go toe-to-toe against other physical damage-dealing players. But we’ll have other abilities that replace it to varying extents, including the PVP talent Slaughter from the Shadows for Subtlety and the glorious return of Dismantle as a PVP talent for Outlaw — as well as Dismantle’s bizarro-world counterpart, Plunder Armor.

Deadly Throw: Cry not for your beloved fling of demise; it’s not being tossed that far away. It’s gone through tons of PVP-balance tweaks over the years; most recently, the interrupt component of the spell was removed, leaving just a movement-slowing effect that was little valued by most Rogues.

In Legion, other abilities will replace, and sometimes even enhance, Deadly Throw’s former role. Assassination will gain exclusive use of Crippling Poison as well as a new ability, Poisoned Knife, that will allow us to apply it from a distance. (Assassination PVPers can also gain the intriguing System Shock.) Outlaw gets Pistol Shot, which looks like the Swiss Army Knife of Rogue spells: It slows enemies, grants a combo point, procs off of Saber Slash, and probably helps you file your fingernails and open bottles of rum, too. Subtlety will have Nightblade, which looks like the spell you’d get if you turned on a blender and dropped in Deadly Throw, Rupture, the Shadow Priest spell Vampiric Touch and the outgoing Combat spell Revealing Strike.

Nerve Strike: I’m not even sure what to say about Nerve Strike. Its design quietly made it a potential lifesaver in PVP and solo-play situations, but its benefits were so specific and short-lasting that it was often difficult to use effectively or reliably. Unlike its former level 30 talent brethren, I haven’t yet spotted any new versions of or replacements for Nerve Strike in the Legion alpha spellbook.


Level 60 Tier: Burst of Speed, Cloak and Dagger, Shadowstep

Yep, the entire “movement” talent tier is going away.

Burst of Speed: For me, the loss of BoS hurts the most of all the spells we’re losing. I adore its on-demand mini Sprints, which can be kept active pretty much infinitely while out of combat. That makes it fantastic for exploration and questing and downright sublime for daily chores like Garrison mining. (It’s also handy for winning races back to the boss after a dungeon or raid wipe.)

On the flip side, the ability proved somewhat difficult to balance in PVP (leading to a series of nerfs throughout the last two expansions), and competitive raiders tended to shun it in favor of Shadowstep. But I think BoS’s ultimate demise lies in the fact that WoW has been striving lately to reduce redundancy in the spellbook — and BoS is pretty redundant with Sprint.

When class designers doled out spec-specific movement enhancing abilities for Legion (part of their stated effort to make each spec feel distinct from the others), they initially gave Shadowstep to Assassination and Shadowstrike to Subtlety as baseline spells, while Outlaw had an entire tier of unique options highlighted by Grappling Hook. Meanwhile, Sprint remained as part of the general Rogue spellbook (with its cooldown halved to 30 seconds) — one of the rare occasions in which all specs will have access to the same spell in Legion.

They could have gone with BoS, but Sprint is admittedly a more interesting ability to use; it’s less convenient than the nearly spammable BoS, but its cooldown is long enough that it often demands us to think about whether we’re using it in the right way at the right time. (This nuance may be further enhanced by a PVP-only talent in Legion that appears to grant Sprint the ability to shed movement-impairing effects for four seconds — which, as it happens, is exactly what the original BoS did when it was first introduced in Mists of Pandaria. Subtlety also has an artifact trait that combines Sprint with Vanish for an interesting new escape mechanism).

I’ll really miss BoS, though. Once you get a taste of an easy, readily available quality-of-life improvement that no other class can use, it’s hard to stop chowing down.


Cloak and Dagger: Though rightly hailed by many as a super-handy leveling tool (murder! teleport! murder! teleport! murder!), it tended to see little use in other areas of the game. Its spirit will live on, however, in the form of the new Subtlety-only spell Shadowstrike that I mentioned earlier. Why make an unpopular talent into a baseline Subtlety spell? I’d love to hear your ideas, because I’m at a loss. I’d say Shadowstrike came into being because of what the designers initially decided to do with Shadowstep, but … well, let’s talk about Shadowstep for a moment, shall we?

Shadowstep: It was an iconic Subtlety ability for years (nestled within those never-as-complex-as-they-looked talent trees from Warcraft’s earlier years) before being made a classwide talent option in Mists. Yet initial Legion alpha builds indicated that the spell would become exclusive to Assassination even as Subtlety was being established as the shadow-themed Rogue spec. In fact, the new Subtlety currently appears to have 13 exclusive spells with the word “shadow” in them, but Shadowstep initially was not among them.

The first alpha build of the new year, however, appeared to return Shadowstep to the Subtlety spellbook — but also left it in the Assassination spellbook, which is peculiar. Given that both specs currently remain unplayable in the alpha, it may be that the WoW class cooks are still tinkering with their spell recipes, so it’s probably best not to draw too many conclusions about the future of Shadowstep just yet beyond the likelihood that it will become a baseline spell for at least one Rogue spec.

An important takeaway about the elimination of our level 60 Warlords talent tier is that we actually “lose” very little in this bargain. As I noted earlier, all specs will still have Sprint (with a reduced cooldown), and each spec will also have at least one gap-closing spell baked into the class — and we’ll get them pretty early, too: Shadowstep is level 13, Shadowstrike is level 10, and Grappling Hook is level 30. Meanwhile, the entire talent tier can now be reimagined to serve a different purpose, offering a new level of customization for each spec.

Level 90 Tier: Shuriken Toss

There may be no ability that’s been through higher highs and lower lows than Shuriken Toss over the past few years. Our first true ranged attack, it was briefly considered so strong (early in Mists) that it gave Assassination’s Mutilate a run for its DPS and made Rogues the ultimate kiting machine in PVP. Inevitably, though, the ability was nerfed down to novelty status, and is now useful mainly for niche purposes like grabbing the attention of hard-to-reach enemies or kiting difficult NPCs during solo play.

Shuriken Toss never really made sense alongside its competitors in the level 90 talent tier, Anticipation and Marked for Death (both of which remain as talent options in Legion, albeit in different tiers — and with Anticipation slightly nerfed). A ranged option with little clear role or consistent value, it was an oddity to begin with.

And now it’s gone and Legion Rogues will go back to being the exclusively, purely melee DPS class they were always meant to be.

Oh! No, wait, sorry — I meant the complete opposite of that.

We are getting a whole mess of ranged damage spells in Legion, including a toned-down Shuriken Toss for Subtlety and a knife-themed version for Assassination. We won’t need to use talents for these spells; each spec is getting at least one ranged combo point builder and/or finisher in its spellbook, and most ranged spells will be available early in the leveling process: Shuriken Toss, for instance, looks like it unlocks at level 11. Now ain’t that a Pistol Shot to the gut!

If all of this has you getting a little dizzy Between the Eyes, don’t worry: I’ll break down all of our new ranged options in a future column. (Spoiler alert: None of them are likely to be strong enough to make us viable as a ranged class.)


Level 100 Tier: Shadow Reflection

Alas, poor Shadow Reflection. It had such wonderful potential, but proved to be little more than a fragile form of delayed Vendetta. Many players simply looked to see whether a guide recommended they use it and then macroed the ability to their other cooldowns. Spawning a shadow that was often difficult to see and required a perfectly executed 16 seconds to get full use from, it was more trouble than it was worth for many — particularly in PVP, where Death From Above and its built-in gap closer proved too sweet a deal to pass up.

And so Shadow Reflection is the only member of the level 100 tier not to make it through to Legion. Or is it? Perhaps echoes of the talent will indeed remain, whether in the form of a fleeting friend or the visage of a ghostly Garona flinging death into the dark night.

The Tip of the Lossberg

So as you can see, the loss of some talents is only one piece of a large puzzle of Rogue class changes — and gamewide changes — that we’re just beginning to wrap our heads around. There’s a lot still to examine, test, and ponder — and given that we’re still only in the alpha testing phase, it’s entirely possible that what we see now won’t be the reality when Legion launches, or even a month (or a week) from now.

We’ll take closer looks at our spellbook changes over the months to come. For now, how do the Rogue talent changes make you feel?

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