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The Light and How to Swing It: Cataclysm 101 for protection paladins

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Please send screenshots as well as any comments to my email at gregg@wow.com.

We're doing a quick series on what it means to be a paladin in Cataclysm for people either coming back to the game after an absence or trying out the class for the first time. If you missed last week, we covered retribution paladins and some beginner info for them, and hopefully we'll finish them up next week. But first, we're talking about protection paladins and their 101 introduction.

What is the protection spec?

Last week, I talked about what it means to be a retribution paladin. I talked of the greatness of beating things over the head with a big stick for great justice. However, protection paladins aren't the type of fighters to just bash things over the head with a stick. They are the tortoise to retribution's hare in more ways than one. They are the ever-vigilant protectors of righteous causes, readying their shining shields to block the oncoming onslaught.

Protection paladins are the iconic look for paladins in most fantasy gaming. Dressed head to toe in polished plate armor, carrying a shield in one hand and a sword or mace in the other, they are the gleaming jewel of chivalry and champions of the Light. Protection paladins are able to take the never-ceasing assault associated with their role as guardians and not only survive but thrive in that brutal environment. These great sentinels take the slow, hard, steady path, compared to the coup de main of their retribution brethren.

Protection are tanks, pure and simple. Sure, as a hybrid class, they get some perks usually associated with their holy and retribution siblings, but soaking damage is their real gift. Any healing abilities they use have zero cast times and are meant to either mitigate magic attacks or serve as tanking cooldowns. The damage cooldowns they share with retribution are great for quickly building up threat for tanking.

Paladins are a blue-bar class, so they use mana for most of their abilities. I did say "most" of their abilities, because in Cataclysm, Blizzard added a new resource bar to the class in addition to mana, called holy power. Holy power functions a lot like a rogue or cat druid's combo points but only goes up to 3. It is meant be built up quickly and then used.

What are protection's benefits?

As conceited as it may sound, you fill a desperately needed role, and people need you. Because of that tanks, go through the random dungeon finder queue faster and are quickly grabbed for PUG raids. Due to tank burnout (we'll talk about that later), good tanks are usually in demand by guilds to replenish their ranks.

I talked a bit about this in the article last week, but paladins are extremely popular. Part of this stems from the fact that historically, we're an easy class to level. As such, paladin resources abound if you're looking for answers about the class and spec.

While part of this stems from the fact you're a tank, protection paladins are fairly indestructible. They have a lot of great tanking cooldowns and decent self-healing, and they are designed to be able to handle multiple targets at once if need be. However, we're not completely indestructible, and this false sense of security can get us in trouble sometimes ... like when questing and deciding to pull half of an enemy encampment because we thought, "I can take 'em."

Gear competition is much less as a tank. In 5-man dungeons, this really comes down to the fact that you're going to be the only tank rolling on items (unless a plate DPS happens to be trying to build a tank set). In raids, you'll usually be given priority on tank items if you're filling that role, and again, the competition is usually fairly slim. It's even better when your other tank is a druid and couldn't care less about the plate armor drops.

What are protection's drawbacks?

As a tanking spec, you're susceptible to a phenomenon known as "tank burnout." From issues ranging from undergeared healers who can't keep you alive to overgeared DPSers who keep pulling threat off of you and shouting "go go go" between pulls, the job can be rather stressful. Despite what actually happens, you'll also take a quite a bit of blame for things going wrong. Then there is the fact you'll be expected to be in charge most of the time. All in all, it's a fairly high-stress job that not everyone is cut out for. Even if you are cut out for it, taking the occasional break is going to help save your sanity.

You lack a bit of mobility. By "a bit," I mean you lack any real mobility features. You don't have easy access to any running speed increases via talents, you don't have a charge ability, and you don't have anything like Sprint. The only mobility feature you have is Hand of Freedom, which removes any snare effects that might be slowing you down. This goes back to the tortoise versus hare reference I made earlier; what you lack in speed, you generally make up for in utility and toughness.

What stats do I want as a protection paladin?

Stamina has a couple of different uses for us. First off, it adds to your health pool, which I'm sure we can all agree is a good thing as a tank. Secondly, it affects Vengeance. For those of you unfamiliar with Vengeance, it's a nice little mechanic meant for raiding so that the tanks can scale up with DPS in later tiers and keep decent threat. The way it does this is by converting damage taken into additional attack power that all scales off how big your health bar is.

Strength is technically a useful stat but not generally something you actively stat for. Strength gives you threat by directly upping your physical damage and indirectly upping your spell power through Touched by the Light. However, you'll occasionally have the need to build up a threat set and adding strength will come in handy. It also provides a bit of parry.

Hit rating is one of the first stats you'll worry about along with expertise. If you aren't hitting your opponent, you're not doing damage to them. If you're not doing damage, you're not producing threat. If you're not producing threat, you're not tanking. That's just the way things work. You need to have enough hit rating to reduce your miss chance by 8 percent. I know that's a strange way to word things, but again, that's the way things work. To reach that 8 percent means you need 961 hit rating unless you're a draenei, in which case you only need 841 hit rating, thanks to Heroic Presence.

Expertise is a peculiar stat, as it lets you hit things that you should be hitting anyway. Hit rating reduces your chance to miss. However, even if your attack is going to hit the boss if it's just standing there, the boss could still dodge or parry the attack to stop you from doing damage. This is where expertise comes in. It's knowing how to hit the mob without letting it avoid the attack. To stop the boss from dodging your attacks, you need to have an expertise of 26, which comes out to 781 expertise rating. Note that I said that only stops the boss from dodging you; it will still be able to parry you, as it takes a lot more expertise than that to knock parries off of the list of things they can do. As such, you can keep going up to 55 expertise (aka 1,652 expertise rating) before other stats start becoming better for threat. Humans and dwarves will have a slight advantage with certain weapons thanks to their racials' providing a bit of expertise, and all paladins can take advantage of Glyph of Seal of Truth.

Mastery (Divine Bulwark) is the stat that makes you better at whatever it is your spec wants to be better at. As protection paladins, we want to be better at tanking and as such, this stat makes us better at blocking attacks with our shield. In other words, it does what block rating used to do back when we still had block rating. For every full point of mastery you have (partials don't count), you get an additional 2.25 percent chance to block melee attacks. As for how much damage it blocks, that's pretty much static. You block 30 percent of the damage of the attack or 40 percent of the attack when you have Holy Shield up and active.

Armor is one of those stats often taken for granted. It comes on your gear as well as a couple of enchants and scales up the better your gear is. To be honest, a lot of where your physical damage mitigation comes from is directly from your armor stat. Bonus armor on things like trinkets, rings, necklaces, and relics is something you'll want to pay attention to. It is also a good stat to grab enchants for when given the opportunity.

Dodge is a wonderful stat, because if your opponents can't hit you, then they can't damage you. This is going to be on most of your tanking gear already. With recent changes to parry, the two are actually fairly interchangeable. With lower avoidance overall for tanks in Cataclysm, you won't be hitting the old 102.4 percent block cap of old until late in the expansion, so don't concern yourself about it starting out. Just remember that higher avoidance is better, and strive to have as much as you can within reason.

Parry used to have extra stuff tacked onto it. If you parried an attack, you took no damage, but you'd also get a melee attack speed buff to quickly counterattack your opponent. Because of this bonus, parry used to cost more as a stat when added to gear compared to dodge, and people didn't really want it as much because of this. Blizzard has since removed this added benefit and essentially made it an alternative to dodge and adjusted the stat costs of the two to be the same.

The Light and How to Swing It shows you how to cope with the challenges of these cataclysmic times. Check out our tips for paladin addons and the most current strategies on glyphing for success.

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

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