Of the three specs, Protection got the most love in Patch 3.1. In fact, Protection becomes so downright awesome that it's completely worth every copper of 1,000 Gold just to have one of your specs as Protection if you don't already. It's so freakishly amazing that even if you already are specced Protection, it's almost worth paying 1,000 to have two Protection specs! Alright, probably not, but you get the idea. If you don't get why it's so crazy awesome, let's go through the awesomeness together.
First of all, Ardent Defender is reduced to three ranks for the same effect. Frees up talent points. Not bad, right? How about this: Divine Protection's cooldown was reduced to three minutes. Let me give you a moment to digest that. Absorbed it yet? 50% damage reduction every three minutes. I know it applies to all Paladins, but for a Paladin tank this is freaking gold. It used to be a weaker version of a Warrior's Shield Wall. Now it kicks Shield Wall's stance-and-shield-requiring butt to the curb.
Alright, so Improved Hammer of Justice was reduced to two ranks for a total of 20 seconds reduction to Hammer of Justice. But this was done to keep Retribution and Holy Paladins from stunning everyone silly every 30 seconds. Don't cry yet, though. Blizzard "fixed" Judgements of the Just to reduce the cooldown of Hammer of Justice by 10/20 seconds. If you do the math, that means Protection Paladins can stun everyone silly every 20 seconds. Alright, now you can cry. From joy. Remember that Hammer of Justice also works as an interrupt, so remember those caster problems Paladin tanks used to have? Gone. Zilch. Zip. Crushed like ants.
Shield of Righteousness, Avenger's Shield and Holy Shield's damage and scaling was increased by 30%. This sounds like a buff but it's just there to balance out the fact that Shield of the Templar no longer increases their damage. The good news is that the damage increase aspect was removed to make way for even more caster-crushing goodness -- the talent grants Avenger's Shield a 3-second silence effect. Did you just need to change your shorts? Great, let's both take a minute because so do I. Furthermore, Holy Paladins get a buffed Shield of Righteousness absolutely free.
One-Handed Weapon Specialization was reduced to three ranks for the same effect, freeing up more talent points. For what, you ask? Well, there's the new talent called Divine Sacrifice, which is an on-use version of the old Divine Guardian. Instead of the raid damage mitigation tied in with Divine Shield, Paladins have the option to use it every two minutes. This makes it an extremely flexible ability usable in a myriad of situations. Divine Guardian was reworked to buff Divine Sacrifice, but also notably to extend Sacred Shield duration by 100% and increase damage absorbed by 20%. A one-minute long Sacred Shield that absorbs more damage? Why, yes, thank you very much.
Also remember that Blessing of Kings has now become baseline, Blizzard finally listening to the Paladin community after years of whining (let's face it, Paladins are whiny little buggers). The first tier void is filled with Divinity, which increases healing done and taken by 5%, which isn't so bad but isn't anything spectacular, either. It's alright if you have Spiritual Attunement, which is now a deep (30 points) Protection talent. You can spend freed up points there, too.
Those are most, though not all of the changes to Protection. Don't worry about the rest, they're all good. Well, except for Blessing of Sanctuary, which now only returns mana (and no longer grants Rage or Runic Power). But who gives a shmoo? It's still awesome for Paladins! All the other tanks can go suck eggs or whatever.
There's one standout glyph in Patch 3.1, and that's the Glyph of Divine Plea. You see, Guarded by the Light was buffed to ensure a 100% uptime for Divine Plea, which virtually guaratees we'll never run out of mana. As in, ever. As long as we hit things, we've got it up. Enter the new glyph, which reduces damage taken by 3%. With this glyph on, that's pretty much a permanent 3% passive mitigation on all damage. Permanent, powerful mana regeneration and decent mitigation? Yeah, it's crazy. And it's freaking true. I won't even mention other glyphs right now because, well, if this one didn't make you squeal with geekish delight, nothing will.
On the other hand, as totally awesome as Protection is for Patch 3.1, it's not all wonderful. The sucktastic thing about Tier 8 is that we get only one blue socket across all five freaking pieces. That's four blue sockets less than Tier 7. Fortunately, the bonuses are all +Stamina, and no more chop suey bonuses that don't stack anything. So it's not all bad, considering we get a smattering of Red and Yellow for Strength and, oh, I dunno, Hit probably. Set bonuses continue the trend of suck, so let's take a look:
Increases the damage done by your Seals of Vengeance, Corruption, and Righteousness by 10%.
If I was allowed to write onomatopoeic sounds here (I'm not entirely sure I'm not allowed to, but it's probably in the WoW Insider Handbook), now would be the proper time to insert all sorts of snorts and grunts and unprofessional fart sounds. Aside from the damage being piddly (there's that word again), note that the bonus only applies to seals. Considering most of our damage and threat comes from the 9696, this set bonus is pretty much a joke.
Shield of Righteousness now increases your shield block value by 225 for that attack and for 3 sec afterward.
Hooray! A set bonus that actually does something. It's not an awesome something, but at least it's not a nothing like the 2-piece non-bonus above. It works both towards threat and mitigation, and also gives Shield of Righteousness a little more punch. Considering you can now use Divine Protection every three minutes, you won't miss the Tier 7 4-set bonus much, anyway.
The bottom line is that Protection got the biggest boost of all this patch. Maybe even among all the other specs. I don't know for sure, I haven't studied them all. But the fact is that Paladin tanking has improved by leaps and bounds and its biggest weakness -- caster mobs -- has not just been addressed, it's been squished, squiffled, and squimified. I'm sure I just invented some words, but trust me... it warrants it.
Forget PvE for a moment, though. The Protection Paladin has just become sexy as hell for PvP. Never mind Diminishing Returns... that's a stun every 20 freaking seconds! Even the Glyph of Salvation, ridiculous when used by a Paladin tank, is actually insane mitigation in PvP. If you thought Paladins were hard to kill, Patch 3.1 will transform Tankadins to impregnable colossi of stuns and interrupts. Protection Paladins will crush them so badly there'll be so much high-pitched crying that casters will sound like castrati. Will the new Protection be Arena-viable? I'm not so certain. They still lack essential burst, but their survivability and control is so insane it just might see representation. The future's bright. Wear shades.