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The Light and How to Swing It: Remembering our first year of holy power

holy paladin
Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Every Sunday, 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 paladins are so awesome.

As I looked forward to this year last December, I wasn't sure holy paladins were going to survive 2011 in one piece. We were just learning to adapt to the three-heal model and figuring out how to manage our holy power properly, and I had serious doubts about our AoE healing and mastery bonus. Luckily, I was wrong, and we have thrived in Cataclysm. We started by focusing on our specialty, powerful tank healing, and then expanded to take over the raid healing role as the year progressed.

While holy power and the new healing model were the big topics of early 2011, AoE healing has clearly been the topic that defined this era in holy paladin history. Holy Radiance's first beta version, Healing Hands, was loudly trumpeted when the Cataclysm NDA was lifted. Light of Dawn's struggle to find a place in our arsenal has caused more lines of paladin patch notes than any other ability. Learning to AoE heal has been our biggest challenge this year but also our greatest success.

Shockadins never quite worked out

While I was initially excited about the idea of giving holy paladins some more offensive capabilities in 2011, the shockadin build never really worked out. I am ecstatic to have Exorcism available as a spammable nuke, and I still use my shockadin build for doing dailies and some PvP. While resto shaman can regenerate mana via Telluric Currents and Atonement allows disc priests to use Smite to heal with, holy paladins are still primarily defensive healers by nature.

Illuminated Healing finally usable

After patch after patch of buffs to our mastery bonus, Illuminated Healing, it's finally strong enough to stand on its own. The developers tried increasing the scaling of mastery rating on our gear, but the stat simply wasn't effective. Next, Blizzard increased the buff's duration, which made it more flexible but none more potent. Finally, after holy paladins spent half of 2011 dropping mastery harder than Skrillex drops the bass, patch 4.2 brought the one change we'd been asking for the whole time: stacking bubbles.

Now that Illuminated Healing scales well off of mastery rating, lasts long enough to be fully utilized, and stacks with successive heals, it's actually not bad at all. In addition to all of that goodness, our new Holy Radiance also takes advantage of Illuminated Healing for the initial heal, further increasing mastery rating's value.

With the redistribution of haste breakpoints for Holy Radiance, the introduction of double-sized crits for all healers, and mastery's new potency, I have talked with many holy paladins trying out new stat builds. The ability for holy paladins to experiment and use different builds and stat mixes speaks to the completeness of the class.

Wrestling for position

When we first started healing in 2011, Light of Dawn was our primary heal. We could simply generate holy power points via Tower of Radiance and Holy Light, and then we'd spray the raid with our holy flashlight. Blizzard quickly nerfed Tower of Radiance's interaction with Holy Light to fix the issue, but it started the cycle of holy paladins trying to figure out which holy power release to abuse.

After buffing and nerfing Light of Dawn and Word of Glory in different ways several times, we've finally reached equilibrium at the end of 2011. Light of Dawn's new glyph model allows the spell to stay competitive in all group sizes, and Word of Glory's amazing single-target potency has us choosing between the two regularly. Giving holy paladins more choices when it comes to spell selection is a good thing, and that's the biggest step we've taken forward this year. Instead of having one spell to solve all of our problems, we've got a unique ability for most jobs.

holy radiance
AoE healing pulls into the station

Holy paladins now have a fairly mature toolbox for handling AoE healing. While we spent much of 2011 simply popping Holy Radiance when it was convenient and then healing as usual, patch 4.3 brought us the AoE heal that we deserved. Holy Radiance's new design forces holy paladins to choose between single-target and AoE healing, and creates an AoE healing rotation/synergy with Light of Dawn. Our new AoE strategy is surprisingly robust for only being around for a few months, but I think that we'll see this design stick throughout 2012.

First, Tower of Radiance allows us to make some interesting decisions regarding Holy Radiance, Holy Shock, and Light of Dawn, which deepens the level of control we have. Because we're faced with these new choices, playing a holy paladin is more engaging than it's been in a long time. Secondly, because Holy Radiance is no longer as dependent on haste as it once was, we're able to branch out and to try different stat combinations.

The gutting of Beacon of Light

In order to weaken our tank healing capabilities without affecting our ability to heal the raid, Beacon of Light saw some heavy nerfs in early 2011. Instead of transferring 100% of our healing done, it only replayed 50% of our heals. The devs needed to take away our godlike tank healing in order to make room for us to also be potent raid healers, and that's a sacrifice worth making.

While Beacon was retuned again to allow us to use Holy Light to heal the raid while also healing our Beacon target for the full heal, the end result is that we're much more balanced than we've ever been. We can't ever heal two targets at once at our maximum throughput, but the devs also stopped designing encounters that involved two tanks being crushed at the same time. In trade for this loss, we're now capable of healing raids effectively. I think it was well worth it.

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.

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

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