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Cataclysm Class Changes: Holy paladin analysis

Apparently Christmas comes early in Irvine. Blizzard decided to share their notes for the paladin class a full two days ahead of time, which I have to say is a nice switch in tradition from their normal habit of pushing content back until "it's ready." While prot paladins are wondering what exactly Blizzard's plans are for their spec, ret paladins are worrying about losing their defensive capabilities that have been their go-to cooldowns in PvP play. The developers did however shine a light onto their plans for holy paladins in Cataclysm, revealing a bit of their design strategy.

Nethaera
Healing Hands (level 83): Healing Hands is a new healing spell. The paladin radiates heals from him or herself, almost like a Healing Stream Totem. It has a short range, but a long enough duration that the paladin can cast other heals while Healing Hands remains active. 15-second cooldown. 6-second duration.

The big reveal came in the form of Healing Hands, the future addition to our healing toolbox. While it satisfies a few of my requirements, such as having an AoE effect and being on a relatively short cooldown, there are still a lot of questions about exactly how powerful HH will be and how tiny the radius actually is. Either way, we've finally got something we can cast when our group is taking AoE damage, and that has me hopeful that we may finally escape the bonds of full-time tank healers. The power of this ability remains to be seen, but I'm glad that Blizzard knows what we lack and they're working to fix that.

Holy will do better DPS

Nethaera
Blinding Shield (level 81): Causes damage and blinds all nearby targets. This effect might end up only damaging those facing the paladin's shield, in a manner similar to Eadric the Pure's ability Radiance in Trial of the Champion. The Holy tree will have a talent to increase the damage and critical strike chance, while the Protection tree will have a talent to make this spell instant cast. 2-second base cast time. Requires a shield.

Guardian of Ancient Kings (level 85): Summons a temporary guardian that looks like a winged creature of light armed with a sword. The visual is similar to that of the Resurrection spell used by the paladin in Warcraft III. The guardian has a different effect depending on the talent spec of the paladin. For Holy paladins, the guardian heals the most wounded ally in the area. For Protection paladins, the guardian absorbs some incoming damage. For Retribution paladins, it damages an enemy, similar to the death knight Gargoyle or the Nibelung staff. 3-minute cooldown. 30-second duration (this might vary depending on which guardian appears).

Crusader Strike will be a core ability for all paladins, gained at level 1. We think the paladin leveling experience is hurt by not having an instant attack. Retribution will be getting a new talent in its place that either modifies Crusader Strike or replaces it completely.

Let me open with this: it's about time that holy paladins got a few more DPS abilities. We never had the Wraths or Smites or Lightning Bolts of our peers, and Exorcism was really a terrible substitute. Between our Shockwave clone that comes straight from Trial of the Crusader, Crusader Strike that we're stealing from retribution, and our new pet that will heal the group for us, we'll be able to kick some serious Black Dragonflight tail. This should make the leveling process for us in Cataclysm much smoother, with Blinding Shield available as soon as we hit 81. I am interested to see the talents that Blizzard introduces that will buff BS (uh oh, that acronym will need to change), as I can see it being a fairly powerful offensive tool if done properly. Plus, it's a great opportunity to play sound bites from Eadric the Pure and Yogg-Saron every time I activate it. Leveling as holy? It might be an option!

Quality of life changes

Nethaera
Holy Shock will be a core healing spell available to all paladins.

Blessing of Might will provide the benefit of Wisdom as well. If you have two paladins in your group, one will do Kings on everyone and the other will do Might on everyone. There should be much less need, and ideally no need, to provide specific buffs to specific classes.

We want to increase the duration of Sacred Shield to 30 minutes and keep the limit to one target. The intention is that the paladin can use it on their main healing target. That said, we would like to improve the Holy paladin toolbox and niche so that they don't feel quite like the obvious choice for tank healing while perceived as a weak group healer.

I guess Blizzard's 2009 earnings must've been great, since they're giving every paladin a BMW. But then I found out that we're not getting a fine automobile, but the Blessing of Might/Wisdom combination that will save us a ton of time and headaches when buffing the raid. I wouldn't be surprised if BMW (you heard it here first) and BoK become raid-wide like Fortitude; it's a change that is really long overdue. With Holy Shock available to all paladins now, I'll be interested to see what they replace the holy 31-point talent with. I'm guessing it will be the Sacred Shield spell, in its new 30-minute incarnation, to lower the defensive power of retribution paladins. Or, the spot could be reserved for some other awesome unannounced ability, which is a definite possibility.

Nerfs


Nethaera
We want to ease off the defensive capabilities of Retribution and Holy paladins slightly. We think the powerful paladin defenses have been one of the things holding Retribution paladins back, especially in Arenas. One change we're considering is lowering Divine Shield's duration by a couple of seconds.

Beacon of Light needs to be changed so that its benefit is letting the paladin heal two targets at once, not letting the paladin get two heals for the mana cost of one. It's intended to save GCDs and targeting time, not mana.

Currently on live, Beacon of Light is a tool that allows paladins to target more than just the main tank. In Cataclysm if it just doubles their healing, it is going to be overpowered. We have two ways we might handle this and we'll experiment to see which feels better. The first is that Beacon only works on some heals, such as Flash of Light or Holy Light (but not the big one). An alternative idea is that Beacon increases the mana cost of a heal cast on a beaconed target, since you're essentially getting a double heal. Under this model, Beacon itself would cost no mana.

Blizzard's gunning for Divine Shield, and unfortunately that could mean we're a bit weaker in PvP. However, I feel paladins are already uniquely suited to the rated BG environment, with Divine Shield to avoid being trained (and to break CC) and a plethora of other cooldowns to turn the tide of a battle. Blinding Shield in particular should be capable of getting pursuing targets off of us. The only other nerf we really saw was the gutting of Beacon of Light. There are a lot of other great ideas on how to balance it, like making only 50% of the heal hit the normal target and 100% hitting the beacon, or vice versa. My personal idea is to make Beacon a heal of its own that mirrors Holy Light but costs 50% extra mana and heals both our normal target and our Sacred Shielded target, similar to how Binding Heal works today.

Mastery bonuses

Nethaera
Holy
Healing
Meditation
Critical Healing Effect


Meditation: This is the spirit-to-mana conversion that the priest, druid, and shaman healers also share.
Critical Healing Effect: When the paladin gets a crit on a heal, it will heal for more.

Throughput, mana regeneration and more throughput. I'm getting a bit scared when I look at these mastery bonuses, since Meditation just enables the spirit on our gear to actually work. Imagine if your warrior's mastery bonus were "Strength now grants attack power." My guess is that the design is meant to be a huge blow to any ret or prot paladin wearing holy gear. The critical healing effect is what has me the most interested, since critical heals are hard to account for because we typically heal the tank if their life is low, no matter what. We can't really use a low-powered heal and hope it crits. I do think that they run the risk of making holy paladins' single-target throughput too high if this isn't scaled properly, but if it is too weak, it becomes useless. I don't like this mastery bonus, but we'll have to see how the Cataclysm healing environment works.

Greater Holy Light

I guess Blizzard decided to pass on my idea of Flash of Holy Light and just dwarfed HL with an even bigger heal. It's sure to be our workhorse in the time of need. I'd love to see a lot of holy talents that will boost this Greater Holy Light and allow us to keep a bit of our tank healer niche by making GHL an easier spell for us to cast. Flash of Light is also increasing in mana cost, which will really kill its role as our baseline heal when mana is an issue. We're going to be casting less, and using triage more often: we might let the target get lower and then use a Holy Light instead. I could see them easily boosting Flash of Light's power to compensate, which would give us an expensive but powerful option to use to supplement Healing Hands in AoE situations. GHL could then be specialized for tank healing. Priests and shamans can still use their big heals to keep a tank up, but paladins have some special sauce that makes it just a bit easier to stomach. It would be the same way that a paladin has an AoE heal that they can use to handle group damage situations, but priests and druids have better tools to handle it. Instead of some classes having a hammer and some classes having a screwdriver, we each get both tools, except that one is bigger than the other.

Conclusion

All in all, the holy changes look good, with a lot of new flavor being added and some potential for different healing styles than we've seen throughout WotLK. I am eagerly awaiting the developer chat via Twitter on Friday, and I've got a special edition of The Light and How to Heal Swing It planned to celebrate our class review in proper form. Until then, be getting your Healing Hands macros ready. I suggest "/yells FREE HUGS (AND HEALS) – RUN TO THE GLOWING PINK POWER RANGER."

Filed under: Paladin, Cataclysm

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