Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Protection specialist Matt Walsh spends most of his time receiving concussions for the benefit of 9 other people, obsessing over his hair, and maintaining the tankadin-focused blog Righteous Defense.
It's not a new phenomenon for protection paladins to be able to use their extensive utility toolbox to mitigate or outright circumvent fight mechanics; it's something that we've been doing since Uther first picked up a blunt object. Throne of Thunder continues that lofty tradition with all sorts of mechanics that can be ducked or dodged by crafty paladins with an excellent sense of timing and the proper addons or macros. We'll also touch on whether it's a good thing that one corner of WoW's tanks can break aspects of an encounter, and the ramifications of such possibilities.
Bubble away your troubles
This is an age-old stupid pally trick that for some reason survives to this very day. Some debuffs (not all, but some) will be removed when an immunity effect is applied, whether it's Ice Block or Cloak of Shadows or Divine Shield. The former two aren't really a big deal, typically, as they allow DPS to quickly sidestep a mechanic that they'll likely be hit with again before the fight is over (for example, Biting Cold on Council of Elders).
It gets trickier with tanks because they are subject to different mechanics that are intended to force the fight to be tanked a particular way, often via a stacking debuff. What happens when a tank can remove that stacking debuff before it can necessitate a tank swap? They outright break how the encounter was intended to be tanked, which can lead to unanticipated outcomes like single-tanking what should be two-tanked, allowing a raid to bring extra DPS and overcome other aspects of the fight with brute force.
There's a great example of Divine Shield disturbing the design in how a fight is supposed to be tanked in Horridon (this also applies to Durumu and Iron Qon, but for simplicity I'll stick to one example). The Triple Puncture debuff stacks to make you take more damage from the Triple Puncture attack (though there's a corollary to that, coming up ahead), which is intended to make the two tanks swap positions from door to door because the damage from Triple Puncture becomes too much to survive.
However, thanks to Divine Shield and Hand of Protection (which can be used twice as often with Clemency talented and can come from other raid members), that can be circumvented. The quick application and removal of a bubble will remove all stacks of Triple Puncture, which in theory can allow a paladin to tank Horridon for the entire duration of the encounter, rather than swap with a co-tank. But wait, it gets cheesier.
Actively mitigating the most dangerous attacks
The way our active mitigation works is that we generate holy power to expend for either a quick heal or a fake, guaranteed block effect. While not really a block, Shield of the Righteous will reduce all physical damage taken by a certain percent for a three second window after the ability is used. This is for all intents and purposes an astoundingly brief cooldown which will likely be worth at least 50% damage reduction in the gear you'd be using to tank Throne of Thunder encounters. And likewise, most bosses have that one big ability that cannot be dodged or parried or blocked, which can put other tanks at a disadvantage. Yet, those abilities can be mitigated with cooldowns, because that's what cooldowns are for after all.
Unlike other forms of active mitigation (which is what each tank class would otherwise use against those mega-attacks, like Triple Puncture), our active mitigation operates like a very ephemeral Guardian of Ancient Kings that only works on physical damage, and it can absolutely shave a chunk of damage off of any physical attack that happens in its tiny window. That's the benefit of being a fake block.
So, while other tanks would have to actually expend a few cooldowns to cut 50% of the damage off of that Triple Puncture, a protection paladin merely has to time their next Shield of the Righteous so that Horridon headbutts you within the duration of that three second buff. Meanwhile other classes have to eat the attack and receive larger heals to compensate for the damage.
Now, combine that with our various bubbles, and you have a protection paladin that can tank Horridon for the duration of the encounter and can reduce a good portion of the damage from the mega-attacks. In terms of encounter cheesing, we're talking the stinkiest of limburgers now.
This can have a disastrous effect on class balance down the road, which we're already seeing in some quarters where protection paladins are being touted as the "obvious choice" for Horridon. The law of unintended consequences (vis a vis class design) in action, as usual.
Shield of the Righteous can also be used to similar effect in other encounters in the raid, for both Tortos' Snapping Bite and Durumu's Hard Stare (which you can then follow up by bubbling off the Mortal Strike-like debuff it applies with that attack).
Regardless, it seems like Blizzard is partially on the case. In PTR build 16924, the base damage reduction of Shield of the Righteous was reduced from 30% to 25%.
Radiating light, heals, and aggro
Much like the PTR nerf to Shield of the Righteous, the Battle Healer glyph also received an adjustment because it's a wee bit too powerful on live right now. Most players assume Battle Healer is great because of all the free (over)healing it throws out to the raid, but there are side benefits to the glyph that (again, this pops up) are a result of unintended consequences.
Because healing generates threat, Vengeance augments healing, and Righteous Fury augments threat, protection paladins can turn themselves into shining beacons of healing aggro to the relief of every (real) healer in an encounter. In fights like Council of Elders where a swarm of Living Sandlings could quickly overrun a healer before tanks could pick them up, or Tortos where a murder (ok, fine, a 'cloud') of bats could descend on a panic-stricken healer, there is immense benefit in having your tank being the primary target of any suddenly appearing adds.
I'm not sure that nerfing Battle Healer from 30% to 20% will be enough to curb that effect, but if the glyph continues to allow protection paladins to be the preeminent source of healing aggro in an encounter, then that's another major feather in their cap which could influence tank choices down for a guild. Why wouldn't you put the paladin on Tortos if it meant that your resto druid wasn't going to be periodically distracted during the fight with perhaps becoming bat food?
In a vacuum any one of these advantages makes for a nice bonus for any tankadin, but combined they create a potential problem for class balancing. Nonetheless, every tank dreams of being able to skirt both damage and mechanics and squeeze out as much survivability as possible. Make the most of it, there's no reason not to!
The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to combat the Sha in the strange new land of Pandaria. Try out the new control gearing strategy, learn how to make the most of the new active mitigation system on your tankadin, and check out how to deck out your fresh 90 tank to get ready for any raids!