Before we get into the really juicy things, namely the new Wrath Paladin talents, we'll take a look at the changes to baseline spells and current talents. In some cases, these were totally reworked, and in others they were significantly improved. The first spell that leaps out with a huge buff is the change to Avenging Wrath, which no longer causes Forebearance. Its damage increase has been reduced to 20% (down from 30%), and now increases healing done by 20% (up from 0%).
In its current form, Avenging Wrath suffers from being vulnerable to dispel mechanics while leaving the Paladin with Forbearance, which remains even if Avenging Wrath is removed before it completes its duration. This also leaves Paladins with a tactical choice of having to choose between survivability or increased DPS, particularly in PvP situations. Forbearance on Avenging Wrath is a huge issue, as well as the contention that it does nothing for Holy or healing Paladins, who never use it in raids. Blizzard meets both concerns head on, removing Forbearance entirely instead of making conditional solutions, and adding a healing buff.
Without question, the changes are geared towards making the spell part of every Paladin's spell cycle without having to make unnecessary, yet potentially fatal choices. The removal of Forbearance makes it less painful when its (inevitably) dispelled, but it also means it can be used in conjunction with Divine Shield to prevent dispels in the first place. More healing or DPS while invulnerable? Yes please!
Auras, similar to Totems, now affect all raid members with the area of effect. This makes Auras more useful, making sharing Auras more of a logistical, rather than a grouping concern. One interesting change is the revision of Anticipation to no longer confer Defense skill but Dodge percentile (5% over five ranks). Although it was significantly moved down to the first tier, down from the third, Dodge does little for a Paladin tank's primary threat and mitigation mechanic -- blocking. On the other hand, Anticipation's current form makes it only marginally useful with an essential .8% increase in chance to dodge, block, parry, or be missed. The change is arguably positive, with higher gains in one mitigation mechanic for a lower talent cost.
The 41-point Protection talent Avenger's Shield also received a minor buff with a shorter casting time (0.5 seconds, down from 1) and longer duration (10 seconds, up from 6). There were no real complaints about the talent, but its new form makes it even more useful in PvP situations and is a welcome bonus.
An interesting talent revision was to Conviction, on the third tier of Retribution. Rather than increase critical strike chance with melee attacks, it also affects all spells. This is a massive paradigm shift, making the talent extremely attractive even to Holy Paladins, who can easily pick up the talent with a 15-point investment in Retribution. This shakes up current builds that branch almost exclusively into Protection. It's worthy to note that Illumination was also moved to the third tier of Holy (down from fourth), making it easier to reach and work in conjunction with Illumination.
A great change was made to Holy Shock, reducing its cooldown to 6 seconds from 15. A reasonably short cooldown makes it a genuine Shock spell (like Shaman Shocks), not only allowing it to be part of a Paladin's spell cycle but as a true offensive weapon. Because Sanctified Light now also increases the critical strike chance of Holy Shock, the spell becomes extremely potent, especially coupled with the new Conviction. The two talents combine to grant an additional 11% critical strike chance to Holy Light and Holy Shock. Holy Shock's range was also increased to 40 yards when used on friendly targets, which should allow healers to use it in conjunction with other healing staples without having to adjust range.
The formerly underwhelming Devotion Aura was bumped to the fourth tier, increases armor by a bigger percentage (50%, up from 40%) in fewer ranks (3, down from 4) as well as increases the healing done to targets affected by the aura by up to 3%. The latter change makes it an extremely attractive aura to use in raids, especially with the new raidwide effect.
Speaking of attractive auras, Retribution Paladins can pick up Sanctified Retribution, a renamed and reworked one-point Improved Sanctity Aura, to make the little-used Retribution Aura work like the two-point Improved Sanctity Aura. The limited-application Sanctity Aura has been removed, freeing two talent points in Retribution. Because Retribution Aura's damage was increased and now also properly scales with Spell Damage in Wrath, some Paladin tanks may opt to take points in Retribution for higher reactive DPS and threat generation.
Retribution Paladins finally get the long clamored for changes to the underwhelming Repentance, a 31-point talent that was outmoded in The Burning Crusade. The new version incapacitates opponents for up to whopping 1 minute (10 seconds in PvP). It still breaks on damage, but is now usable against Demons, Dragonkin, Giants, Humanoids and Undead. Its only caveat is non-spammability, but works pretty much like a ranged Sap that can be used in combat. This spell is certain to make Retribution Paladins more attractive in groups, especially 5-mans, on top of the cool DPS-increasing changes to the Retribution tree.
Paladins' two 'uh-oh' spells, Divine Intervention and Lay on Hands, have had their cooldowns reduced to 20 minutes from one hour, and Lay on Hands no longer consumes all available mana. This makes it more of a clutch spell rather than an occasional all-or-nothing gambit.
Righteous Fury has been buffed to generate 90% more threat from Holy damage -- the gains from the Protection talent folded into the base spell. This is key. It heralds one of the most critical changes in Wrath, where tank classes are being given massive boosts to threat generation from baseline spells. This means that conceivably, even Holy- or Retribution-specced Paladins will be able to generate enough threat to tank. Players whining about the change to Blessing of Salvation (now Hand of Salvation) should understand the context of the new spell in the new environment. We'll take a look at how these trees can tank when we examine the new talents in a following post. For now, however, it looks like Righteous Fury alone enables tanking no matter what the spec, the only question being damage mitigation.
There were numerous changes to Paladins, a major overhaul of the class, with talents reshuffled, rebalanced, and generally buffed to provide more utility or sheer power. Stoicism, for example, has been moved to the extremely attainable second tier of the Protection tree, with three ranks conferring a reduction in the duration of stun effects as opposed to the RNG-dependent stun resistance. It also no longer provides dispel protection but rather reduces the chance spells will be resisted by up to 30%. The former is a good change in line with an old trend of duration-reduction effects over resistances. I'm not as sure about the latter change, but it's more useful for Paladin tanks who rely on their spells to hit in order to generate threat.
The changes look awesome, with Blizzard streamlining the class by scrapping little used or situational abilities such as Sanctity Aura and Seal of the Crusader. Abilities gained duration, increases in percentage effects, and in some cases reworked or gained added features like an instant cast Holy Wrath that also stuns for 3 seconds. Right now, at least, the future is looking bright -- or looking Light -- for Paladins. Up next -- the new Wrath of the Lich King talents!
<-- Wrath Beta patch notes: Paladin part I