Before we get started here, I'd like to include a disclaimer: Yes, we're about to talk about patch 4.1. However, it is still extremely early in the patch's life cycle, so anything and everything could change before the patch hits live realms. We are going to talk about the patch because I feel the few changes to retribution currently on the PTR are significant, and talking about them is a good way to gain an understanding of them. If you like (or dislike) a change but don't understand the how and the why, what good is it?
With that out of the way, it's time to render judgement upon the patch 4.1 patch notes.
Word of Glory now has a 20-second cooldown. Ouch. My gut reaction to this change included a lot of profanity, but I took a step back to let the concept percolate through my mind. I'm not so upset anymore. Largely, I think PvE retribution paladins are getting caught up in a mess created by other areas of play. Protection paladins manage to do a lot of self-healing with Word of Glory, far above and beyond the other tanks (except possibly blood death knights).
Additionally, retribution in PvP has been inching in the direction of not great for dealing damage, but has a ton of survivability. The developers have never been happy with retribution filling that role in PvP. Retribution ended up that way previously, and they've specifically tried to move us away from that. If you do damage, you should do damage, not soak it up all day long. The reintroduction of Sacred Shield made that problem even worse, which is part of the explanation for a change we'll get into shortly.
Word of Glory's cooldown for non-holy paladins will bring protection paladins back in line with other tanks and will reduce the PvP survivability of retribution paladins. That might open up an opportunity to give retribution some other tool to use in PvP -- an offensive tool, not another defensive one.
In PvE, retribution just needs to deal with it, I suppose. It was a nice ability, and I've done a lot of clutch healing with it, especially when my guild was first learning heroic 5-mans, but we have other survivability tools that we can rely on besides one that uses up all of our holy power. I will certainly miss using Zealotry and spamming Word of Glory on myself in a tight spot, though.
The cooldown on Word of Glory brings up another concern, however. The talent Selfless Healer was always a DPS loss for a min-maxing raiding ret paladin, but now it's even more lackluster. Word of Glory with a 20-second cooldown reduces the worth of Selfless Healer significantly. At this point, I'm highly in favor of Blizzard's removing it and replacing it with something else. It was nice for clutch healing/saves in PVP and early Cataclysm progression, but it simply doesn't have a role anymore. Then again, if a ret paladin in PvP is still trying to use Word of Glory every cooldown, maybe they want those once-in-awhile heals to be as effective as possible. It might still be extremely popular in the arena and rated battlegrounds.
Sacred Shield's internal cooldown has been increased to 60 seconds, up from 30. I see this as primarily a PvP balancing move, but it wasn't exactly balanced in PvE, either. Every 30 seconds, the retribution paladin triggered an absorption shield equal to 30% of maximum health, in addition to a +20% healing received buff. Add Sacred Shield to tools like Divine Protection and retribution was pretty tough to kill, both in PvP and PvE. Not many other DPS specs have that sort of survivability. Retribution's DPS is quite a bit more competitive since the implementation of our new mastery in patch 4.0.6, so it's hard to justify that sort of survivability.
Sacred Shield is still an extremely good talent in both PvP and PvE. The new cooldown is most certainly a nerf, but it brings it more in line with other defensive cooldowns -- it also now matches the cooldown on Divine Protection (which you really should have glyphed if you're a raider).
Now, for the change you've all been waiting for ...
Shifting between single-target DPS and AoE DPS is an essential part of a player's toolkit, and I'm a firm believer that players should all generally be on equal ground in that realm. It isn't acceptable for a DPS spec to have truly terrible single-target DPS, so the same standard should be applied to AoE. The developers seem to be on the same page now, considering this change and the significant changes to shaman AoE.
One step forward ...
Two nerfs and one buff. That isn't a winning score, but it fits the vision that the developers have described to us in the past. Retribution paladins shouldn't have strong defensive capabilities in exchange for lackluster offensive viability. It might be good flavor, but it's not good design in a game like WoW where your class's DPS determines whether or not you get to participate in raid content.
Despite the negative score, I remain positive. We've already come a long way since Cataclysm's launch, and this is a step in the right direction. From here, I'd like to see two things happen.
First, retribution needs a new PvP tool -- specifically, an offensive tool, not another survivability cooldown. I'm not much of a PvP player myself, so my contributions to that kind of discussion might not be effective, but I think it's an important discussion for the PvP community to have. If you go to the PTR forum tonight, don't argue for the return of Word of Glory spam or the 30-second Sacred Shield. Don't argue for more defensive capabilities. Discuss alternatives. What offensive tools would round out the retribution paladin's toolset? Talk it out and be creative -- don't just cry for Mortal Strike.
The second thing I'd like to see happen is the removal and replacement of Selfless Healer. I like the talent -- I kept it far beyond the point it was "correct" to do so -- but the Word of Glory nerf renders it largely obsolete. Perhaps that could play into the new tool for retribution PvP, as Selfless Healer was much better received in the PvP community than the PvE community. It would be a painless transition.
The Light and How to Swing It teaches you the ins and outs of retribution paladins: the changes introduced by patch 4.0.6, how to gem, enchant and reforge your ret, and more. We even have something for holy and protection paladins, too.