Assuming that most of the changes push through, we should expect a completely different Paladin in the coming months. Even without taking the new talents into account, there are baseline changes that should make gameplay technically different. The most significant change, of course, is in the way Judgements work. This is the one change that will take some getting used to. First of all, there are now three Judgements and they activate the GCD. This means no more macros for Seals and Judgements, which is actually fine because of two things: first, Judgements no longer consume Seals; second, Seals now last for a micromanagement-light two minutes.
Those changes are huge. More than the fancy new talents, which will vary from player to player, the baseline change to how our Seal system works affects everyone. It takes some getting used to. The three Judgements -- Wisdom, Light, and Justice, have the effects of the Seals they were named after. The two cool things about this is that Paladins now don't have to throw up a new Seal in order to unleash its effects and that all Seals when unleashed deal damage. Players will simply have to unlearn the habit of refreshing Seals as often. That said, Judgements still only work when a Seal -- all of which now only have one rank -- is active.
Having three Judgements will take a bit of assigning new key bindings or action bar slots, but it's an otherwise painless change. Paladins can enjoy the flexibility of judging the appropriate Judgement depending on the situation. All three trees also have talents that proc off Judgements -- Judgements of the Pure, Judgements of the Just, and the recently nerfed Judgements of the Wise. This cements Judgements as part of all Paladins' spell cycles -- even healers, who can cast Judgements from afar with Enlightened Judgements. This is exactly what I had hoped for when I once wrote about Seals. The new Seal and Judgement system makes it imperative to have a Seal active and Judge whenever the spell is up.
For the most part, when Patch 3.0 hits, it will be Holy or healing Paladins who will have to adjust the most. Paladin healing has been a two-button affair for such a long time that it will be refreshing to finally have a more dynamic way to heal. Throwing a Divine Favor - Holy Shock - instant Holy Light combo might just be a healer's new uh-oh button next to the vastly improved Lay on Hands. Speaking of uh-oh buttons, Protection Paladins get Lay on Hands and a reworked Divine Protection (aka Shield Wall). I know, we all tossed that button a long time ago. Well, it's time to put it back on your bars or key bindings because it. now. rocks.
On the other hand, with so many mitigation and immunity mechanics available to us (Divine Protection no longer triggers Divine Shield's cooldown) Blizzard felt the need to extend Forbearance to three minutes. The good news is that Avenging Wrath doesn't trigger it anymore. If there's something we have to get used to, it's popping wings without fear of being vulnerable. In fact, we can even use it with our bubbles now. With the change to affect healing done, Holy Paladins actually have a reason to pop wings during encounters, too. Retribution Paladins also finally get a talent directly affecting Avenging Wrath -- Sanctified Wrath. Wings every two minutes? Yes, please!
When Patch 3.0 hits, each tree will feel even further defined. Blizzard has pruned away the non-essentials and made outdated, outmoded spells actually useful. Take Divine Protection, for example. Then there's the unappreciated Blessing of Sanctuary, which was just reworked to become a tank's best friend. Sanctity Aura? Gone. Who really misses the extra Holy damage? Retribution Aura, the non-scaling joke of an aura mostly used by Protection, will now appropriately be used by Retribution Paladins thanks to Sanctified Retribution. Oh, and it scales with spell power now, too. Thank you very much.
Unfortunately, Patch 3.0 will not grant us the cool new baseline spells from Level 71-80, so Paladins won't be getting Divine Plea or Shield of Righteousness, but it's still going to be a completely different game for most Paladins. Holy Shock on a 6 second cooldown and better coefficients makes it a viable option for offense and healing. There will be many talents to play with and the talent trees shaken up quite nicely that Paladins of all builds shouldn't feel like they're playing an inferior spec.
Well... Retribution still feels somewhat lacking in the mana regeneration department thanks to the underwhelming Replenishment, but I'm fairly confident that Blizzard will do the right thing and figure it out before Patch 3.0. I mean, Protection Paladins AoE grinding with Blessing of Sanctuary will be like Energizer bunnies that just keep going and going and going. Holy Paladins will still need ridiculously high crit for longevity, but thanks to the consolidation of melee and spell crit, Conviction helps towards that goal.
One important change that Paladins will need to adjust to are the new 'Hand' spells. These are the renamed Blessings of Freedom, Protection, Sacrifice, and Salvation. It never made sense for active Blessings to overwrite the passive, buff-type ones and this change addresses that. Hand spells can now co-exist alongside Blessings, which is a long overdue change. Hand spells are situational and reactive, with two of them reworked and will take some practice to use effectively.
Hand of Sacrifice, for example, no longer works as an anti-Crowd Control mechanic because of the long cooldown. But what is lost in PvP was gained in PvE, as it now works extremely well as a mitigator with a 30% damage reduction. Used properly, it can buy time for our cast heals. Hand of Salvation works completely differently now, usable as a targeted Fade or Soulshatter. It's a %-based reduction, so it works extremely well with DPS that have their burst go out of control. These changes make these spells adaptive to situations, particularly the Hand of Salvation. Whereas we used to cast Blessing of Salvation on players preparatory to a fight, the new spell will have us keep an eye on threat meters for the right timing for this spell.
Another cool thing that might get lost in the shuffle is the availability of formerly faction-exclusive Seals to all players. This means that Alliance Paladins get their own Seal of Blood (called Seal of the Martyr) and Horde Paladins will get Seal of Corruption, the Blood Elf version of Seal of Vengeance. Alliance Retadins can now celebrate and be on equal footing with Horde Paladins on DPS, and Horde Paladins finally have a Damage-over-Time debuff. Seal of Corruption / Vengeance now applies a debuff 100% of the time, too.
It's a very encouraging time for Paladins. Patch 3.0 will bring new spells and a more involved way of playing. When Blizzard said they'd be overhauling the class for the better, it looks like they meant it. There's still the issue of Retribution's mana regeneration, but it's still Beta and Paladins have yet to get a second pass. Personally, I can't wait for that build to arrive. Despite my disappointment in the changes to Judgements of the Wise, with every good thing I've seen Blizzard do with the class in Beta, I'm confident that everything will work out just fine in the end.