Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. On Sundays, Chase Christian invites you to discuss the finer side of the paladin class: the holy specialization. Feel free to email me with any questions you want answered, like why I'm wielding a stick in my off hand.
Has your holy paladin reached level 85 yet? I was able to dedicate enough time to finish up the job, and I've been hard at work ever since. While Holy Shocking and Exorcising my way to the level cap was a blast, we have to get back to reality. Shockadins aren't really viable at any competitive level once 85, and so we're going to revert to our healing ways. I changed my spec into a more traditional holy build and got to work running dungeons and heroics. I even got an opportunity to knock out a couple of raid bosses, which was eye-opening.
With Blizzard's new in-game version of GearScore controlling your ability to enter dungeons or heroic groups, it's important that your holy paladin is geared properly and quickly. We don't have the same infinite mana pool to lean on, and Holy Light's throughput is maybe a quarter of what it was at level 80. When we first reach the level cap, we're feeble and frail. Our old epics are meaningless, and we're left scrambling for any gear we can find. If we take a bit of time to plan out our gearing strategy, we can apply a method to this madness.
What to look for
While it's obvious we don't want to be kitting ourselves out in strength gear, there are still a lot of options available when it comes to holy paladin gear. First and foremost, we must use plate armor in every slot. While we used to be able to downgrade to mail or the lower armor classes, our plate specialization ability forces us to focus on wearing nothing but plate. This greatly restricts our gearing options compared to before, though the other classes are similarly restricted. As long as we're wearing plate with intellect on it, we have a good start.
Of the four "secondary" stats we have available, we get to choose two on each piece of gear. My personal favorites are haste and spirit, although I am thinking of swapping some of my haste to critical strike chance. I'm not a big fan of mastery, as damage is typically so infrequent that the bubbles are rarely effective. Spirit is a necessity at our gear level; you should focus on ensuring that every piece of gear you possess has some measure of spirit on it. As we continue to gear up, our mana pool will grow via intellect and spirit may not be as critical. Right now, you need spirit on your gear, or else you're going to end up out of mana and out of options.
Haste is a great throughput stat and one of the best versatility stats, but it also increases your mana costs. While it's nice to be able to toss out Cleanses faster, Cleanse already wrecks my meager mana pool. I actually dropped the Glyph of Light of Dawn for heroics and picked up the Glyph of Cleansing to help alleviate some of that pain. I leave any non-critical debuffs on my party members, as many times it isn't worth it to dispel them. There are "trap" debuffs that do little damage or have a weak effect, but you can get tricked into wasting your mana on removing them.
Finding the best gear
While there are a tremendous number of gear guides available, you can find every available item with a simple Wowhead search. Our friend Kurn has assembled a great list that includes analysis of several trinkets, while tuutti of Paragon created a guide that maps instances to items. Vilepickle also created a very clever website that lists the best items simply and easily, and you can choose what items are available to you by simply unchecking raids or heroic items. There are several options for nearly every slot, and now that we have reforging available, we can take suboptimal gear and make it significantly better.
Your first priority should be gathering justice points by running heroic dungeons. By healing your way through these instances, you'll get the opportunity to roll on high-quality blue items and earn justice points that you can spend on any item you like. If you rely on dungeons for all of your gear, you are at the mercy of random drops, and that's not a fun place to be in. Justice points represent predictable gear improvements, and that's important in gearing up quickly.
Start with reputation gear
The Earthen Ring is going to be the first faction you'll want to level up. The best way to level with them is to quest through Vashj'ir, which may or may not be fun for you. Either way, they'll start off by giving you a decent necklace at honored. The real prizes are at the revered and exalted reputation levels. To start, you can score an amazing breastplate, complete with two sockets. Their Cloak of Ancient Wisdom isn't bad, but what you're really after are the epic World Keeper's Gauntlets you can obtain once exalted. It's one of few epic items available for paladins from reputation vendors.
The Guardians of Hyjal should be your next focus, as they're going to grant you our new arcanum (helm enchant). Nothing else from them is valuable, so feel free to stop grinding that rep once you reach revered. If you quested all the way through Hyjal, you should be revered without having to run any dungeons while sporting their tabard. The Ramkahen of Uldum have several great items available starting at honored, including the Drystone Greaves and Ammunae's Blessing ring. Boots are a particularly rare item for us, so be sure to snag these when you can. While the revered tier is empty for paladin, the Ramkahen have an amazing belt available at exalted, the Sun King's Girdle.
If you did any questing in Deepholm while leveling, you should already be honored with Therazane. They're the Cataclysm equivalent of the Sons of Hodir and grant shoulder enchants at honored and exalted reputation levels. They also have a great ring available at revered, although that's really all they have in the way of rewards. Scribes can pretty much ignore this faction entirely, although the rest of us will be working our way to exalted after we've obtained the gear from most of the other major factions.
Finally, the Dragonmaw Clan (and Alliance equivalent) has but a single item available for us, at exalted, and it's only a necklace. They're definitely the last faction you'll want to work on.
Where to spend justice points
When looking at what gear is available in what slots, always be thinking of where to best spend your justice points. You obviously don't want to blow any JPs on a chest when one can easily be obtained from getting your Earthen Ring reputation to revered, but you also want to gear up as fast as possible. I found that our shield/off-hand items were particularly lacking, especially if we want spirit and haste. I picked up the Apple-bent Bough as my first purchase, simply because there were so few other options. Helmets are another great example, as we want to find one sporting a socket, and the Crown of the Blazing Sun fits that bill. My third JP purchase will be the Gloves of Curious Conscience, which have a valuable red socket that I can put a Brilliant Inferno Ruby into.
I suggest spending an evening running heroics, evaluating your current gear and reputations, and the quality of your current gear. Once you identify a weak slot with no easily obtainable replacements, spend your JP to fill that gap.
The Light and How to Swing It: Holy helps holy paladins become the powerful healers we're destined to be. Learn the ropes in Cataclysm 101 for holy paladins, study the new balance between intellect and spirit and learn how to level your new Sunwalker. Tanking is a job, DPS is a craft -- but healing is truly an art.