Math: Subtlety, Daggers, and Hemo; Oh My!

I’d like to clarify a few things today with the reasoning behind my Subtlety leveling guide.  I’ve caught some flak for using Daggers with Hemorrhage, and rightfully so.  Using Hemo with Daggers is vastly inferior to using it with a slow weapon, such as a Sword.  I would never recommend that anyone use Dagger Hemo in a group or raid; however, the Subtlety guide was written for someone to solo content, so different rules apply.  

Still, if Hemo isn’t as good with Daggers, why would I spec for it, and worse (gasp!) use it?   I’ll explain that using the numbers within the game.  Before we get started, a few explanations:

  1. I’ll be using level 80 abilities to keep it simple.  The Attack Power and Crit numbers are obtainable in blue /crafted epic gear with proper enchants.
  2. I will not be calculating white damage or armor mitigation.  I’d rather spend my time playing the game than number crunching, and they should pretty much cancel themselves out.  If anything, my damage estimates should be on the low side.
  3. As previously stated, I know that Hemo works better with Swords and I’ll show the math to prove it.   Please refrain from being redundant and commenting on how Hemo is better with Swords.
  4. Hemo was never considered to be a main ability in this build, like Ambush and Eviscerate are.  It’s main use is combo point generation, and even at that, it’s not used often in this build.

Let’s get started; you might need an Advil, though, this is math intensive :

First, let’s compare Hemo Daggers to Hemo Swords: 

In 2.3 Hemo became a normalized attack.  Normalized refers to Blizzard’s formula to deter people from using weapons based soley on speed.  Before normalization, instant abilities had a multiplier based on their weapon speed, so a blue weapon with a slower speed could, and often did, outperform an epic weapon of faster speed,  regardless of  the weapon DPS. 

With normalization, the multiplier was set to 1.7 for Daggers and 2.4 for Swords.  Therefore, a 2.3 speed Sword gets the same multiplier as a 2.6 speed Sword.  If both weapons have the same base DPS, and all other things are equal, any ability they have will hit for close to the same amount.  Any change in damage would come from the difference in the damage range of the two weapons.

To understand normalization, we need to understand how white damage, which is not normalized, works.   Weapons have a range of  damage based on their speed and DPS.  A  1.3 speed dagger with 130 DPS would hit for a range of 135 to 203 damage (before the attack power bonus).  A 130 DPS Sword with a speed of  2.6 would hit for a range of 237 to 440 damage (again, no bonus).    For white damage (no misses) over a 1 minute period, these two weapons would deal the same amount of damage, because when averaged out, they deal the same amount of Damage Per Second, or DPS.

How does this pertain to Hemo?  Swords outperform Daggers with Hemo because their multiplier is 0.7 higher than the Dagger multiplier, and because they have higher base damage.  Here’s the math:

Base Hemo damage (assuming 2454 Attack Power) is calculated as follows:

[Weapon Damage + (AP/14 * 1.7)] * 1.1 = Hemo Damage

Our Dagger would look like this:

[135 to 203 + (2454/14 *1.7)] * 1.1 = 476 to 551 Damage

For our Sword:

[237 to 440 + (2454/14 * 2.4)] * 1.1 = 681 to 904 Damage

Looking at those numbers Swords outperform Hemo by a range of 205 to 353 per use.  Clearly, Swords are the better weapon for this ability, and if you’re raiding using hemo, I’d say find the hardest hitting Sword you can find.  You’d do significantly more damage over the length of a fight.

What does all of this have to do with your leveling build?

The Subtlety leveling build I wrote is not for raiding or instancing; it is for people who are playing solo.  The build uses Stealth and burst damage.  The two big hitting abilities we’re using in the build are Ambush and Eviscerate, not Hemo.

The Subtlety tree provides some great buffs for Ambush, but first, the base damage calculation:

[Weapon Damage + (AP/14 * 1.7)] * 2.75 + Bonus Damage = Ambush Damage

With our dagger, this looks like:

[135 to 203 + (2454/14 *1.7)] * 2.75 + 907.5 = 2,098 to 2,285 Damage 

There are several buffs to Ambush in our build that are going to add a considerable amount of damage to it.  These buffs are Opportunity (20% damage), Master of Subtlety (10% damage), and Sinister Calling (5% increased bonus Damage).  Here’s how that affects our equation:

{[WD+(AP/14 * 1.7)] * 2.75 + 907.5 * 1.05} * 1.1 * 1.2 = Ambush Damage

When calculated, our new buffs to Ambush bring its damage to 2,830 to 3,076.

A 5 combo point Eviscerate is much easier to calculate:

Damage range =  1977 + (AP * .15) to 1977 + (AP * .35)

With 2,454 AP, it would deal 2,345 to 2,836 damage.  Using Premeditation, and Ambush (with the extra combo point from Initiative), It is possible to open with Ambush, and immediately follow with a 5 point Eviscerate.  This would give Eviscerate the 10% bonus from Master of Subtlety, bringing its damage range to 2,580 to 3,119.

Our Ambush is going to have a fairly high chance to Crit when we hit level 26 and finish Improved Ambush, but it won’t always Crit.  Also, we won’t get Premeditation until level 40, or the reduced energy cost of Ambush until 59.  At level 80, mobs have roughly 12,000 health. Here’s a breakdown of the worst, probable and best damage at level 80 (also expressed as a percentage of average mob health):

Worst (lowest damage, no crits):  

2,830  + 2,580 = 5,410 (45%)

Probable (average damage, Ambush crits):

5,906 + 2,850 = 8, 756 (73%)

Best (highest damage, both crit):

5,906 + 6, 239 = 12,145 (101%)

As you can see, if everything goes perfectly (and the mob’s armor is low enough).  It’s possible (albeit unlikely) to kill a mob with two abilities.  More than likely you’ll take 50 – 75% of the mobs life, and you’ll need to finish off the mob, and Hemo is a cheap way to pull that off.

If you’ll remember earlier our base Hemo damage range is 476 to 551, which with Master of Subtlety becomes 524 – 606 damage for 30 energy, plus every subsequent white and special hit are going to gain an extra 70 damage.  At the absolute least, we’re going to get 524 damage out of a Hemo, and with a max damage crit (+ 75 from a previous Hemo) we’d get 1,287.  Between Hemo and white hits, anything that survives your initial assault isn’t going to live long.

If Premeditation is on cooldown (which will likely happen every other mob), you can use hemo to quickly generate 2 combo points after the Ambush: 

Ambush -> Hemo -> Hemo -> Eviscerate

This sequence would deal somewhere between 6,158 to 14,719 (depending on damage and crits) and would take about 4 seconds to use (because of the global cooldown).  In 4 seconds, your mob is either going to be dead, or close to it.


Hemo isn’t the star of this build; it’s just a means to an end.  It was chosen because it is cheap, and doesn’t require special positioning, like backstab.  I aware that the numbers discussed in this post are all for level 80, but I’m currently leveling a 2nd Rogue with this spec to test it personally.  Expect some updates on this subject as I progress in level.

– Sam

7 Responses to Math: Subtlety, Daggers, and Hemo; Oh My!

  1. Chronic says:

    Interesting, thanks for writing this. I’m guessing the build performs significantly worse if you’re forced to fight multiple mobs at once (or start out of stealth for whatever reason), and it seems like your average time per mob would be quite high with all the restealthing and positional openers.

    That said, if the mobs are usually on ~25% after your opener, it looks like it would be a pretty viable way to level for people who prefer the style.

    Nevertheless, it seems to me a build that focuses on hemo with a slow sword/mace/fist would also be a powerful levelling alternative.

  2. samueltempus says:

    Yes, this is a single target build. The point being that a good rogue can turn a 3 mob group into 1 mob at a time with careful use of tools, like sap, blind, etc. And you hit it on the head, this build was all about “style.”

    As for the stealthing, we improved Stealth dramatically in the build. The cooldown is lower, the speed penalty is reduced, and it’s harder to be detected, so it wouldn’t be the hinderance that it feels like sometimes.

    Also, I have zero issue with someone that wants to level with Sword/Mace/Fist Hemo. I’d use a different build for that though, probably leaving the Subtlety tree after Hemo and going 50 points in Combat. I think it’s a fabulous way to level, but it wouldn’t be a Subtlety spec, and that was kinda the point. I might do a write up on some Hybrid leveling specs, but I doubt I’d get into the detail of the three guides.


  3. Thimble says:

    If you add shadowstep into the equation (and I realize that comes at level 50 at best), you’ll find that the stealth burst from a subtlety build is even higher, when you increase that ambush damage by another 20%. It also decreases the burden of dealing with positional openers and stealth movement. Granted, it’s not up for every fight, but it’s up for about half of them, and that ain’t bad. And premed->SS->ambush->eviscerate kills aren’t all that uncommon (don’t forget you’ll get a couple of white damage hits and perhaps a poison proc or two in the mix as well during this time…daggers are fast), and the eviscerate glyph certainly helps.

    Yes, multiple mob fights can be a pain…they take a lot longer than they would in a combat build, for example, since your burst is blown. Of course you can vanish and then restart on the other mob, and between elusiveness (which you might take) and prep (which you absolutely will take), your vanish is going to be available just about any time you need it.

  4. samueltempus says:


    It actually came to me the other day that I hadn’t included the Shadowstep in the math, and has been bugging me (yet I haven’t fixed it). You’re absolutely right, adding Shadowstep to the equation makes Ambush all the more deadly.

    – Sam

  5. Prugo says:

    Hi, I’m currently leveling this rogue and recently changed to subtlety. I have two daggers and I was told by a friend that, as you say, swords>daggers for subtlety rogues.

    I clearly see that weapon damage-based attacks do substantially more damage with slower weapons but what about the white damage? If each dagger attack gets the same damage bonus as a slower sword attack from the hemorrhage debuff, the white damage would be quite a lot higher with daggers, but would that compensate for the less damage you would do with the hemo attack itself?

    What do you think? I really like daggers, they’re… more subtle than swords or maces 😦

  6. Mal says:

    Prugo: the hemorrage debuff would add a negligle amount of damage in a single-mob leveling situation. With Sam’s Subtlety build, you would not be using Hemo nor melee damage as your primary damage contributors. Hemo is a Combo point filler after Ambush till you Evisc, and one of your tools (along with Ghostly Strike) in an extended combat situation. Nothing more. Subtletly leveling is not a “Hemo build”. Don’t think of it as such.

    Regarding your point on offsetting the damage loss:
    Assume your chaining Hemo. 205-353 per Hemo use are the example numbers Sam used. Also assume you got 1 extra dagger hit (due to faster speed) with glyphed hemo charges for every 1 white hit with a slower MH weapon. That’s an extra 105 damage for every 205-353 you just lost by using hemo with a dagger MH. 205-353 >> 105.

    Note my assumptions are not correct. For the above timing to be true, your dagger would need to be 2x as fast as your slow MH, which is not the case. Usually its about 1.5x faster.

    Conclusion: you are not even close to offsetting the damage loss by using Hemo charges faster with daggers.

  7. Zen says:

    Just a follow-up on Mal’s response, Frugo, Subtlety is riddled with two things: burst damage, and stunlocking (passively, through talents such as preparation, premeditation for faster kidney shots, extra cheap shots through shadow dance, etc.). Even assuming Hemo daggers did equal the same output as Hemo swords, it’s still negligible. The idea of the sub daggers build is that an ambush crit even in your low 20s will knock off half of a mob’s health straight away. The idea is that you gain access to an incredibly powerful opening move (<3 oneshotting clothies), and the rest of your damage is an afterthought pumped as much as it can to finish the rest off as quickly as possible.

    Look at it this way: As a sub swords/fists/maces rogue, your opener is cheap shot, followed by hemo spam, followed by eviscerate (or kidney shot, hemo+evis). It's much bigger damage over an extended period of time, but you have to dps down an extra 50% of health. Which means for it to be as effective as sub daggers (which I personally feel it isn't; I don't have the maths to back it up though), you would need to be doing twice as much dps to cover the deficit (though you would arguably be taking less damage through stunlocking).

    I personally have been using sub daggers for years (in the BC era), and the only time I switched was in competitive arena (where more sustained damage helps you take down those plateys or stubborn healers).

    The way I see rogues:
    Sub daggers = insane burst, horrible sustained, great survivability (with prep, glyph of evasion, etc.)
    Hemo swords/maces/fists = okay burst, great stunlocking, okay sustained, great survivability.
    Combat swords = horrible burst, fantastic sustained, horrible survivability (I honestly don't know why anyone pvps with CSwds, but more power to them if they can make it work)
    Mut Daggers = honestly, I've never tried them. I couldn't give up shadowstep to give it a go.
    Combat daggers = lol

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