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The Light and How to Swing It: What is a paladin?

Welcome to The Light and How to Swing It, one of our new class-specific features. Robin and I will be switching off on pallies by the week. We're both belfadins, so beware: we probably haven't been playing them as long as you have.

The topic I've chosen for my inaugural column cuts to the very heart of the class. What is a paladin, and what should a paladin be? Are we healing clerics, supporting the raid through magic and buffs? Are we defenders, standing in front of the foe with our shield and our sword? Are we holy warriors, charging into battle like Uther? Or are we a mix of two or three of these -- a capable tank that can switch off and heal, a healer that does best in melee situations, or a true hybrid that can step up to any challenge?

This has been one of the biggest debates on the paladin forums, and it generally comes down in two ways: holy paladins vs. ret paladins and Alliance paladins vs. Horde paladins.

The enmity between holy and ret paladins is something I don't really understand. Then again, I'm prot/holy and haven't raided yet, nor do I have much experience with ret in general. On the rogue forums, we don't tend to jump for joy when one tree gets nerfed or develop bitter rivalries based on our specs. Even druids, the other class with a DPS, healing and tanking tree, stick together with their tree/bird/bear/cat brethren. Hearing the holy and ret paladins going after each other when the 2.1 patch notes came out was disheartening for a newb prot pally, like hearing your parents fighting. Is this what I have to look forward to at 70?

In general, the holy paladins who dislike retribution enjoy being arguably the best single-target healer in the game, and are concerned that their healing capabilities will be nerfed if paladins get more DPS capabilities. The popular image of the "retnoob" -- the paladin who runs into battle swinging his twohander, never healing or tanking or caring about anything other than his huge crits -- has also ruined the retribution tree for a lot of paladins.

The ret pallies feel deceived by Blizzard. The original class description, the role of Uther, and the classical image of paladins point to a holy warrior, a class that can smash faces as well as heal them. With plate armor and good utility, why should paladins be standing forty yards away casting two spells over and over and over again? Most coherent ret defenders don't want DPS equal to that of a mage or rogue, but instead some kind of utility along with middle-of-the-road damage -- a form of melee shadow priest.

Similar to the holy/ret arguments are the fights between Alliance and Horde paladins. Once again, this seems to be unique to pallies -- the only comparable class on this one is shaman, and both Alliance and Horde shammies on the forums are united in their dissatisfaction with their class. Basically, Alliance paladins have been playing the class for years, and most of them rolled it based on either their perception of paladins or the abilities of the paladin class at that time. So a lot more Alliance, at least on the forums, tend towards the holy warrior side.

Horde paladins, on the other hand, had two years to watch the raiding and PVP roles of paladins develop. They rolled based on what they saw Alliance doing and what they felt Horde lacked. And Horde pallies never had to go through any of the paladin nerfs and buffs before 2.0. As a result, more blood elf pallies on the forums support paladins being a defensive hybrid, able to heal or tank. This seems to be true in-game as well. At least on my server, most of the rerolled pallies were former DPS looking to tank or heal, and I've yet to see a true ret paladin in action.

Just from looking at our talent trees, it's clear that paladins aren't meant to do only one thing. But it's tough to balance out the trees without totally messing up PVP. A plate class with a magic shield that could do DPS equal to a rogue would be horrifying in the battlegrounds. So how can we balance our roles and find a true place in groups?

The paladin forums and blogs probably have better ideas about this than I do. I have the limitations of being a belfadin that's comparatively new to the class. But from reading the forums and playing pallies, I do have two ideas.

  1. Let us be the best tanks for certain situations. While I agree that warriors should be the best tanks on average, due to being unable to heal, druids and pallies should be superior for certain situations. If warriors were always the best at everything, no one would ever bring a druid or pally. Blizzard took some really great steps in this direction in the Burning Crusade, making all three classes able to tank, but in a different way. Warriors mitigate damage with a mix of all the avoidance methods, while druids do it through high HP and armor and paladins do it through blocks. Currently, druids can be superior tanks on multiple mobs, while well-geared paladins can be a smidge above warriors on fast, dual-wielding bosses. Buffing the prot itemization and the prot tree slightly, while also varying the sort of bosses faced in dungeons, will make all three classes raid-viable tanks for certain encounters. Also, a non-useless and mana inefficient 41-point prot talent would help.
  2. Let us be melee healers. Sorry, ret pallies -- you can't DPS as well as single-role classes and on average, you never will. But with plate and judgements, there's also no reason we should spend every raid standing forty yards away when we can be using our abilities to buff the rest of the raid's damage and healing. Paladins are "easy healers" with only two spells for a reason. If judgements were powerful enough that raid leaders would want to have holy OR ret pallies standing at the boss swinging away between heals, then holy would have their superior healing and ret would have their desire to be in the battle. Heck, my guild might not have taken down Gruul tonight if it weren't for our pallies jumping in the fray after the tank and melee DPS died to a shatter at one percent. Possibly some sort of healing threat reduction in either tree?

So what do you think a pally should be? Do you have any suggestions on how to improve the class? What did you roll your pally to do?

Uther Lightbringer fanart by Pulyx on worldofwar.net.

Filed under: Paladin, Analysis / Opinion, (Paladin) The Light and How to Swing It

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