Paladins dealing damage is a hot button topic these days, especially where their main DPS tree, Retribution, is concerned. Retribution paladins in particular have to put up with a lot of abuse from other players and even sometimes from within their own class. The main reason for this is twofold, in my opinion: 1) some paladins, especially the new ones, spec into Ret without knowing how to gear for it, which just feeds the stereotype that paladins can't DPS or are bad at it; 2) many players are unaware of the benefits of having a Ret Paladin in their group, or are just biased because they feel that being able to wear plate, heal, and do damage is simply too much for one class to do.
If you're the type of Paladin that I've described above in reason 1, then this article should help you. Though I won't be recommending gear you should shoot for (that's a topic for another time), I will be discussing the stats you should be aiming for, so you can adjust your own gear accordingly.
For everyone else, it is my hope that this series lays a little enlightenment on you, so that afterwards, you can make a more informed opinion regarding Paladin DPS.
Alright, with that out of the way, let's start with Retribution!
As I said before, this article isn't about the specific pieces of gear you should try to pick up, but let's quickly examine the stats you should be aiming for. In general, you should prioritize your gear this way: Strength / Attack Power > Melee Crit Rating / Agility > Melee Hit Rating > Other stats.
If you're serious about dealing damage as a Retributer, the magic numbers here are as follows (remember, these are the minimums): 1500 attack power, 25% crit, and either 5% hit (PvP), or 8% hit (PvE). I would suggest going for crit first, and once you hit around 25% just start stacking AP. You need the crit to keep Vengeance up, though after patch 2.3 you can probably get away with less, since Vengeance will have a longer duration.
If you have Divine Strength from the Holy tree (and you should, but more on that later), always take strength over attack power on your gear, as you'll gain 2.2 AP per 1 point of strength. This means that an item with 15 strength is better than an item with 30AP, since 15 strength will grant you 33AP total.
Also of note is that I don't mention spelldamage. While spelldamage is helpful, it is not as helpful as the other melee focused stats. Whatever spelldamage you happen to pick up while gearing up is likely fine, and you'll also get a spelldamage boost from Judgement of the Crusader. I beg of you -- if you want to deal good damage as a Retributer, don't stack spelldamage gear.
The one piece of gear that I absolutely recommend picking up is the Libram of Avengement, which comes from Heroic Blood Furnace. It drops off the first boss, and is well worth the time investment farming for it.
It is my opinion that the 5/8/48 build is the strongest PvE Retribution build one can have. Here are a few points on why:
- Divine Strength from the Holy tree grants 2.2AP per 1 point of strength. Strength scales with your gear much better than attack power does, so this allows you to squeeze a bit more out of your gear.
- The only thing we're after in Protection is Precision, for the 3% hit. Retribution is a nightmare to gear up for, and when you're starting out you won't find much that has melee hit rating on it. As you need around 5% or 8% depending on whether your focus is PvP or PvE, this is definitely worth it to pick up.
- Conviction grants you an additional 5% crit if you've maxed it out. Crit is one of our primary stats, so this is a no brainer.
- Crusade gives an extra 3% damage to 4 of the 7 enemy types. This is roughly equal to 3% crit, as far as theorycrafting damage output is concerned. This is mostly a raiding talent, but does affect player characters, as they are classified as humanoid.
- Improved Sanctity Aura is something you should have up all the time, and this means another 2% damage for you and the 4 other people in your group.
- Sanctified Crusader essentially grants your entire party / raid an extra 3% crit chance so long as Judgement of the Crusader is up on what you're attacking.
- Fanaticism was quite good before, but as of today it becomes essential. Eyonix just announced that when patch 2.3 hits, in addition to its usual effect, Fanaticism will also reduce threat by 30% (when maxed out)! Ret paladins rejoice! Your passive threat reduction has finally arrived!
- Crusader Strike is going back down to its original cooldown of 6 seconds as of patch 2.3. You should be taking this anyway if you're Retribution, as it's one of the cornerstones of the build, and gives you a controllable source of damage (something Ret paladins were lacking until this came along).
At first glance, it may seem like all you do as a Retributer is auto-attack and occasionally refresh your Seals, but if you want to max out your damage you're going to have to pay attention.
First, make sure your buffs are up. If you're the only Paladin in the group, use Blessing of Might unless your tank is really having problems holding aggro – in which case, you've got to switch to Salvation (but please, use Might if you can).
Unfortunately, due to the spiky, burst type damage inherent to Ret paladins, it used to be very easy to pull aggro with a lucky string of crits. Divine Shield and Blessing of Protection simply remove you from the threat list for their duration – but once they wear off, all your threat comes right back, so these skills cannot be used at all to reduce or remove threat. Thankfully, Blizzard is changing the deep Ret talent Fanaticism in 2.3 so that it also incorporates a passive threat reduction of up to 30%.
If you're in a raid, talk with your raid leader about getting put in a DPS group, as your Improved Sanctity Aura will be wasted if your group isn't dealing damage. If at all possible, group with a Shaman who is willing to put down Windfury Totem for you. For a Retributer, Windfury Totem is the single biggest buff you can receive, as the extra hit receives additional attack power, and can proc Seal of Command.
Now that we're buffed and in a DPS group, we're ready to go! As a Retributer, there are two main Seals / Judgements you should be using, though the others have their own tactical uses, as we'll discuss in a bit: Seal of the Crusader, and Seal of Command (or Seal of Blood if you're a Horde Paladin, but more on that later).
Start the fight by Judging Seal of the Crusader on your party or raid's target, then switch to Seal of Command. To make this easy, there's a simple little macro that I like to use:
/cast Seal of Command
What this does, as you can see, is Judge your current target and then reapply Seal of Command. As Judgement is not on the Global Cooldown, you can press this once to accomplish both tasks. This also helps keep you from missing potential SoC procs.
Start the fight by Judging Seal of the Crusader -- if you've used the macro above, you'll have Seal of Command up too. If you have the Libram of Avengement, I recommend using Crusader Strike while the buff it grants you is active. If you're going all out on DPS, you can use Judgement whenever it's off cooldown, but I would wait until just after a swing so you don't miss a SoC proc. However, I'd suggest making sure that Crusader Strike is also off cooldown so that you can use it again while the buff from your Libram is up. If you don't have the Libram, this doesn't apply.
If you'd like a visual way to track when you're going to swing, you can get a wonderful addon called Quartz, available from WoWAce Downloads. Quartz can display swing / shot / cast bars, so it's quite useful if you want to be absolutely sure when your next swing is coming.
If you don't have to worry about CC'd mobs, you can also use Rank 1 Consecration. It may not seem like much, but with JotC up it does a fair amount of damage and is pretty mana efficient. Be careful using it around groups of mobs if your tank doesn't have a handle on all of them, though.
Summing up, my normal attack pattern looks something like this:
Judge Crusader > Crusader Strike > Rank 1 Consecration (depending on situation) > Wait until Crusader Strike is off cooldown > Judge Command after next swing > Crusader Strike > Repeat
If you're a Horde Paladin, you'll usually want to substitute Seal of Command for Seal of Blood, as Theorycrafters have shown that in most cases, Seal of Blood does about 20% more damage than Command overall.
Why take a Retribution Paladin?
In a raid, a Retributer will bring a number of useful skills to the party, aside from additional DPS. The entire raid gets an additional blessing (and an improved Blessing of Might for your melee), he/she will boost the damage output of whichever group they are put in due to the Improved Sanctity Aura, he/she will boost the damage of the entire raid due to the Sanctified Crusader talent, the tank has another emergency healer (one more Lay on Hands never hurts), he/she brings another Blessing of Protection to save the squishier members of your raid, another Divine Intervention means additional wipe protection, and if things really look bad... a Paladin can heal itself -- something that few other melee class can do.
In closing, I'd like to quote Exavier, who has an excellent thread on raiding as a Retribution Paladin:
"[...] Let's talk about DPS for a moment. This is a commonly questioned issue, that Ret paladins are the bottom of the barrel as far as DPS goes. They are not typically going to beat someone of "equal gear and skill," but this term is thrown around and is extremely relative. That is, who's to say what mystical "equal gear and skill" is, and what the "accepted DPS level" of a Ret paladin is? It is easily within the Ret paladin's realm of possibility to significantly out-damage any class, but pit a very skilled rogue against a very skilled Ret paladin in DPS, and you'll see the rogue win by a good 10-20%. This is not to say that a Ret paladin should be used as a benchmark for other DPS (though this is a possible use for a raiding guild), but rather, that a Ret paladin making his mark on the meters is a skilled player that is contributing much, much more than your typical DPS."
Look for Part 2 sometime soon, as I continue to examine Paladin DPS!