If healers were defined by their heals, then holy paladins would be the strong, silent type. Our roster of healing spells has always been meek. The three-heal model of Cataclysm and the introduction of our holy power heals definitely increased our selection, but we have nowhere near the healing spell diversity of a priest or druid. We're only now receiving a true AOE heal in patch 4.3 with Holy Radiance's redesign.
Rather than leaning on a variety of healing options, holy paladins like to keep it simple. We're able to compensate for our undiversified healing tool box by drawing on our numerous other abilities. We might not have as many healing spells as the other guys, but we certainly have more utility spells than they could ever dream of. Our "Hand of" spells allow us to go further than any other healer can.
Hand of Sacrifice: Our external cooldown
Around the time Ulduar was released, an interesting shift happened in the healing metagame. Rather than relying on our tanks to use their defensive cooldowns when necessary, healers were pushed to use their external cooldowns to prevent tanks from dying. Encounters like the Iron Council on heroic difficulty pushed our healing abilities to the edge, and tanks simply couldn't survive Steelbreaker's punches without help from our cooldowns. Since that time, healers have been laden with the burden of ensuring that the tank has a cooldown active any time there's heavy damage coming in.
Hand of Sacrifice is our external cooldown ability. It reduces the damage that our target takes by 30% for 12 seconds, but it does so by redirecting the damage to ourselves. We take 30% of the damage that our target is taking. Since we have so many options to heal ourselves automatically, like Protector of the Innocent, it's often valuable for us to take some of the damage off of a tank. Even though we're not actually reducing the total damage that the raid takes as a whole, by redistributing the damage, we increase our tank's chance of survival.
We do need to make sure that we don't accidentally kill ourselves with Hand of Sacrifice, though. Hand of Sacrifice itself won't typically kill us outright, but any additional raid damage affecting us can spell our doom. On the other hand, we can break ourselves out of crowd control effects like Polymorph and Sap with Hand of Sacrifice. We cast it on an ally if we suspect we're going to get put under a CC effect shortly, and then any damage our target takes breaks us out.
If we pop Divine Shield while Hand of Sacrifice is active, we actually don't take any damage at all, allowing us to reduce our target's damage at no cost to our own health. I like to use this combo toward the end of an encounter to ensure that my tank won't die while I have Divine Plea active. During my testing, Divine Protection (with and without its glyph) did not reduce the incoming damage I took from Hand of Sacrifice. The incoming damage is applied directly to our character, so we can't resist or dodge the damage either.
Hand of Protection: Saving lives
Hand of Protection is our other powerful option for reducing incoming damage. I should note that this ability used to be called Blessing of Protection, and you'll still hear it referred to lovingly as "bop" by any veteran paladins you know. Hand of Protection makes our target invulnerable to physical attacks and will often remove any physical debuffs like bleeds or stuns from our target.
The catch is that our target won't be able to use any physical abilities while under the effects of Hand of Protection. Because most healers and casters don't use any physical abilities anyway, you're always safe to place a HoP on them. HoP tends to be incredibly valuable for saving a mage or warlock that pulled aggro on a boss or an add. One of my favorite PVP combos involves tossing HoP onto a friendly arcane mage, which lets them wind up some Arcane Blasts without fear of being interrupted or stunned by most melee classes.
While there are situations where using HoP on a tank to clear their debuff stacks can be valuable, we want to be careful with how we use it. If a boss only has melee abilities available, they'll stop attacking the tank if he is hit with HoP. At that point, the boss will start attacking whoever is second on the threat table, and things go downhill quickly. Try not to HoP the currently active tank. If you absolutely have to HoP him, immediately follow it up with another Hand spell like Freedom, as it will overwrite Hand of Protection and allow the tank to regain aggro. You should note that HoP isn't a threat drop, just an aggro drop.
The pointless nature of Hand of Salvation
Back when threat was actually important, Hand of Salvation was an interesting spell that holy paladins could use to help keep threat under control. Now that tanks have all the threat they could ever want and more, Hand of Salvation doesn't get used much at all. My only advice is to remember to use Hand of Salvation as late as possible, as it reduces a fixed percentage of your target's threat and so you want the total amount to be a bigger number.
Hand of Freedom: Unique mobility
Hand of Freedom is one of the spells that convinced me to play a paladin in the first place. Hand of Freedom makes us immune to any slows, snares, and roots while active, ensuring that we're always moving around at full speed. When combined with Pursuit of Justice and Speed of Light, holy paladins have amazing mobility. While raid encounters that feature slows and snares are rare, Hand of Freedom is still nice to have around. In PVP combat, Hand of Freedom is a core ability that is crucial to paladins gaining any sort of positioning advantage.
Hand of Reckoning: Playing with fire
While Hand of Reckoning is usually characterized as a tanking spell, holy paladins can use it too. I taunt down my own Spinners when fighting Beth'tilac, and I'm able to help round up the Lava Scions when facing Ragnaros. The key is making sure that there's a real tank nearby to take over quickly, as holy paladins aren't designed to handle a dangerous add for very long. I also use HoR quite often in dungeons to help get mobs into the correct positions, but be careful not to usurp your tank.
The Light and How to Swing It: Holy helps holy paladins become the powerful healers we're destined to be. Find out just how masterful mastery healing can be, gear up with the latest gear, and learn how to PVP as a holy paladin.