So you're finally 70. Welcome to the select order of masochistic players who endured the tedious grind (or, if you leveled as Protection, the happy AoE grind) to max level with a class sometimes considered to be a WoW developer's afterthought. The Paladin class, popular as it is, has traditionally had a slow development cycle. That said, one can choose to see it as a blessing (pardon the pun) rather than a curse, in the hopes that developers will build Paladin talents adaptively and from the lessons provided by other classes. Don't hold your breath.
Anyway, so you're Level 70. You're now ready to enter Karazhan. Well, ok, not really. Right about now is when you should be gearing up for Karazhan, The Burning Crusade's entry level and most popular raid instance. With the removal of the attunement process in Patch 2.4, you won't even need to have The Master's Key, but you'll need to have a friend who can open the gate for you. More than a few Holy Paladins will have an easy time getting into a group for Karazhan because let's face it, everybody loves a healer. Then there are the Paladin tanks who'll get that loving invite to visit Deadwind Pass because, again, everybody loves a tank. But you, the vindictive 2-hander-wielding, Judgement-spamming, Crusader Striking champion of truth and justice... well, nobody loves you.
In fact, there is no class spec so universally disdained as the Retribution Paladin. There will be times, when one of your raid members die (it will happen, sadly), that you will get the inevitable sideways, head-to-toe, rolling eyes look from unenlightened raid members who secretly wish you had specced Holy. Pay them no mind, for a properly geared Retadin who knows his class can smite foes with terrifying righteous fury (which you should always keep turned off, by the way). The key words being properly geared. More than a few Retribution Paladins have been laughed out of raids simply because they chose to do battle in poor gear. Don't make the same mistake. Geared right, a Retadin can send even a demon prince running off with his tail between his legs. With some help, of course.
Weapons of choice
So there. Gear up. This is the most important step towards true Retadin-hood. Because most of your damage will come from auto-attacks, you must have a big, slow weapon. As a rule of thumb, the slower it is, the better. So you should be looking for speed (or lack thereof), top-end damage, and if it grants a bonus to Strength, your most important stat. Melee crit is a nice bonus, too. For the sake of argument, and so that you don't embarrass yourself in Karazhan, we'll skip all the weapons with a top-end below 400. Furthermore, as cool as polearms are, a vast majority of them are simply too fast to be attractive to the Retadin. There are quite a bunch of weapons to choose from, but we'll take a look at a few you might want to consider.
Auction House finds
The Oathkeeper - This weapon was simply made for Retribution Paladins. It's the easiest, cheapest weapon to get to start but try to replace it as soon as you can because the Level 68 requirement and its commonality has 'beginner' written all over it.
Apexis Cleaver - This BoE item from Blade's Edge Mountains is a great starter weapon that any Retadin can get from a trip to the Auction House. Because Ogri'la remains a regular spot for daily quests, this weapon should be relatively easy to obtain.
Singing Crystal Axe - This world drop is an awesome starter weapon if you can afford it and luck out at the Auction House, but the Haste proc is phenomenal for raid DPS, particularly for Blood Elf Paladins using Seal of Blood. With this weapon, your next likely upgrade will be from Karazhan itself.
The Hammer of Destiny - This is the Oathkeeper's big brother. If you manage to snag one at the AH, this weapon should serve you well deep into Karazhan. Similar to the Singing Crystal Axe, your next likely upgrade should be within Karazhan.
Ethereum Nexus Reaver - Changed from BoP to BoE, this axe from Doomwalker in Shadowmoon Valley can sometimes find its way to Auction Houses. If you're lucky, rich, and not a Blacksmith, this will be the best starter weapon you can get. The sockets and slow 3.7 speed makes it superior to even Gorehowl from Prince Malchezaar in terms of raw damage. This means you won't necessarily be getting an upgrade in Karazhan for your weapon, but it also means you should do fairly well with your DPS.
Legionfoe - The aptly named axe (since you'll be smiting demons in Karazhan) can be obtained fairly quickly by doing the daily quests in the Isle of Quel'danas. The +Strength, along with melee crit and weapon expertise make this an awesome weapon to swing around.
Reaver of the Infinites - This drop from Epoch Hunter in Heroic Old Hillsbrad is the best PvP blue axe in the game. You can tailor it for your Karazhan expedition by ignoring the Resilience socket bonus and socket three Bold Blood Garnets for heavier hits.
Warmaul of Infused Light - The name of this weapon itself indicates its purpose. Dropping off Wrath-Scryer Soccothrates in both Heroic and Normal Arcratraz, the Warmaul is a relatively easy weapon to get. It is also among the few weapons with three sockets, making it extremely customizable.
Axe of Shattered Dreams - While it lacks +Strength, this axe from Kael'thas Sunstrider in Normal Magister's Terrace has the rare Armor Penetration as well as a sweet and slow 3.8 weapon speed, making it perfect for Seal of Command.
Firemaul of Destruction - Obtained from Warbringer O'mrogg in Heroic and Normal Shattered Halls, this mace wastes more than a few item points in Resilience, but has a decent top end and +Strength to make it a passable entry weapon into Karazhan.
Quantum Blade - Probably not the best of weapons for a Retadin, a good top end, melee crit, and raw Attack Power make it a decent alternative as an entry level sword for Karazhan. Its 3.5 speed should be as fast as you're willing to go. Drops off Aeonus in Heroic Black Morass.
Blacksmiths have the easiest time transitioning their weapons for Karazhan simply because the weapons they can craft are far better than any drop in the zone. Although the BoE Blacksmithing items have decent top end damage, the fast speed make it extremely unattractive to Alliance Paladins using Seal of Command. Even the Khorium Champion with its massive +Strength and built-in Crusader proc is at an abyssmal 3.3 speed, making it only a consideration with Seal of Blood.
Thunder / Deep Thunder / Stormherald - Hands down the best weapon series a Retribution Paladin can get upon hitting Level 70. With the change to Primal Nethers and Nether Vortexes, these maces can now be crafted completely without having to enter a single dungeon. The +Strength and high top end make it superior weapons for Retadins, and even Thunder will surpass all Karazhan weapon drops all the way until Gorehowl. Its slow 3.8 speed is the best for Seal of Command, as well.
Lionheart Blade / Lionheart Champion / Lionheart Executioner - On par with the maces for Retribution, particularly for PvE, the first tier isn't as good and will be roughly equivalent to Despair from the Opera event in Karazhan. On the other hand, the upgrade of Lionheart Champion and Executioner have extremely superior Retribution procs, as a +100 Strength proc translates to massive Attack Power coupled with Divine Strength. The fear resistance will also come in handy against Nightbane.
Lunar Crescent / Mooncleaver / Bloodmoon - Inferior to either sword and mace options for Paladin Blacksmiths, the axe series benefits from an extremely high melee crit bonus which helps to proc and sustain Vengeance. The top end and speed are superior to the Lionheart series for raw damage, but the lack of +Strength makes these axes a tertiary choice for Retribution.
As counter-intuitive as it may sound, PvP now offers the best entry level weapons for raiding Karazhan thanks to the progression of Arena seasons. Season 2 items, roughly inferior to Tier 5 for PvE and slightly superior to Tier 4, can now be purchased with Honor. As seasons progress, the items available through PvP will become better and better, surpassing even the loot found in Karazhan. Detailed below are the Season 2 weapons which became available for purchase with Honor points at the start of Season 4. The Season 1 weapons have been retired as of this writing and can no longer be purchased.
Merciless Gladiator's Greatsword / Merciless Gladiator's Bonegrinder - These two weapons have identical stats, and Paladins make no distinction among weapons owing to the lack of any specialization talents. Both weapons have far superior DPS and top end damage than virtually anything in Karazhan, rivaling even Gorehowl. If you are not a Blacksmith and don't have the money for an Ethereum Nexus Reaver, spending some time in the Battlegrounds should reap you either of these for a competitive edge (or bluntness, depending on what you get...) in raid DPS. Better weapons are available through the Arena system, as well.
These are among the best weapons you can get for your Retribution Paladin only beginning to do Karazhan, from the easily obtained such as The Oathkeeper to the moderately difficult such as Stormherald. It is important to remember that the Retribution spec is extremely gear dependent, and in order to perform decently in a raid set-up, you simply must have the best gear available to you. This starts with your weapon. Everything else will follow. In the next installment of The Light and How to Swing It, we'll take a look at filling out your other slots.