Today's date is Dec. 24, the night before Christmas. The children have been put to bed, with stories of fantastic Smoke Bombs and amazing Flame Orbs dancing in their heads. We're sitting quietly by the unlit fireplace, waiting for our friend St. Ghostcrawler to arrive during the night. His yacht is led by flying ponies, and he arrives each year to bring us presents. These gifts are morsels of information, crafted by the elven developers in their Irvine workshop.
Blizzard has a tendency of saving the best for last. My friends, I am here to tell you, paladins are clearly the best class in World of Warcraft. I am eager to see what the developers have planned for us, but I am also worried about the level of change that we are going to see. Several of the other classes saw significant redesign, like warlocks, and if we're a week behind everyone else, I get the feeling the changes are going to go quite deep. I'm not saying that this type of invasive surgery isn't necessary, I just hope that I like what I see when I wake up on the other side of the knife.
The first thing we need to consider is GC's new model of healing: three heals, one for every situation. We've already seen shamans and priests normalized to this model, and so we will definitely be seeing a Flash of Holy Light to sit between our existing heals. When we cast our biggest heal, it needs to mean something. It needs to take some time to cast, it needs to cost some serious mana to use, and it needs to heal the hell out of our target. Holy Light currently fills only one of those requirements, which is why we use it so often. When your only tool is a hammer made of steel and gold and has lasers and strobe lights attached to it, you're going to use it to solve pretty much every healing problem that gets thrown your way.
That model is going to die.
Death to Divine Plea
In its wake, we'll be closer to having parity with our healing brethren in terms of spell selection. That's the boring part, and honestly, we'll play it like we always have. You gauge the target's missing life, incoming damage, and encounter mechanics and choose the right heal for the job. This is called triage, and we've been doing it since day one. However, in order to accomplish this goal, our mana pool needs to be seriously examined. Divine Plea simply does not work. It's a clunky mechanic that keeps rets and prots from going out of mana and is completely ignored by holy paladins via trinkets and Divine Illumination mixed with two-piece tier 10. The spell forces us into intellect gems and gear with the sole priority of maximizing our mana return from percentage-based sources. I will guarantee that things like Replenishment and Seal of Wisdom will also be tuned such that stacking intellect is no longer the only intelligent option for a holy paladin.
Life to Illumination
What does this mean for a spec with no current Meditation-esque talent and that guzzles more mana per minute than any other class? The glorious return of Illumination. Blizzard hit Illumination with every nerf bat that Ghostcrawler could find in the closet marked "nerf bats," and it finally died in WotLK. However, holy paladin longevity didn't even dip as what was once our most cherished talent was drawn and quartered. The reason is that Replenishment and trinkets stacked with intellect kept us chain-casting Holy Light without missing a beat. With the problematic, percent-based mana regeneration abilities removed, Illumination can return from its long exile. Look at restoration shamans; their crit-heal-procs-Water-Shield mechanic keeps them trucking throughout the longest fights in Wrath. What better way to make crit valuable to the paladin again and get us wearing normal gear?
Let's talk about normal gear for a second. What stats will paladin healers have available in Cataclysm? Intellect and stamina come standard, with intellect replacing spellpower as well. MP5 has gone the way of the dodo, and so we're left with crit, haste, spirit and mastery as the only remaining stats. I'm not quite sure which stat will share a slot with mastery, but expect for most of our gear to have a pretty similar spread of stats. We're getting critical strike rating whether we like it or not, and without any Inspiration or Divine Aegis effect in the holy tree, giving us some mana back seems like the right design.
We need some flavor
Part of what made paladin healing seem so boring or simple before was that our two primary heals are really very plain. Every other class already had a slow/big and small/fast heal, and sometimes they even had another direct heal on top of that. Even with the addition of a third "middle" heal, we're still going to need some flavor to separate us from the other healers. The big three are supposed to be our baseline abilities. I mean, how many shamans are defined by Lesser Healing Wave, and do you think of Greater Heal first when considering a priest's unique healing spells? We have Holy Shock, but that does a woeful job of adding to our unique heal toolbox. It's basically base heal number four, in the instant/very small category. So where are we going to find a revolutionary heal that will signify holy paladins?
It's not going to be Beacon of Light. The only ability of its kind, what Blizzard does to Beacon will be only a footnote of our Cataclysm review. Imagine if for some reason Beacon of Light merged with Glyph of Holy Light such that every time you healed any target, the player who was Beaconed would splash heals onto all targets within 15 yards, healing for say 20% of our original heal on each target. That sounds cool, right? Now we've got an AoE heal that is really unique from what anyone else is doing, which would be great, except for one small thing.
We'd still be stuck with the big three (or four, including Holy Shock) and the uninteresting game play that comes from basically using the same heals for five years. We're going to be getting a new heal, that I can guarantee, and I really don't hope that Ghostcrawler and company don't make the same mistake that they did with Sacred Shield and Beacon of Light. They were both fun abilities, but Sacred Shield ends up being a reason to cast Flash of Light, and Beacon is cast once every minute or so and Holy Light spam after that. We need a new spell in our rotation, and that will be the big reveal. Any tweaks to mana regeneration or the ratio of our heals in terms of speed and power will not be a surprise. We can expect these things. The complete removal of Divine Plea and Replenishment that ushers in Illumination's magnificent revival? It's totally possible and you should be prepared for that likelihood. The question is: what's the new heal going to be?
I have no idea.
The Severed Essences in ICC have possessed several upcoming Cataclysm abilities, and the paladin essences currently have a spell called Radiance Aura. While it sounds like fun, we don't need another cooldown. We don't need another "set it and forget it" ability, we don't need another duration timer bar added to clcbpt, and we certainly don't need another aura. We need a heal, a down-to-earth ability with a short or no cooldown that will let us full a niche that will make every other healer jealous. We're losing our huge crashing tidal wave heals that take tanks from 0 to full in a second flat, and so we're due some amazing ability that blows our minds and has us browsing Craigslist for beta invites the moment it's announced. We need a defining heal; we need Penance or Wild Growth or Circle of Healing.
The new heal needs to be an AoE or have some multi-target healing involved, the new heal needs to have either be instant or have a very short cast time, the new heal needs to be a "smart heal," and the new heal needs to use a completely different mechanic from every other healing spell around. We are a class with no unique heal, and we deserve our own unique heal instead of some quickly thrown together "Splash of Light" HoT that shares its icon, mana cost and scaling with Renew.
Paladins have lasted five years with two direct healing buttons to push, and I can say that those years were worth it if we get something amazing on Friday. I don't have a problem adding some basic third heal to my HL/FoL triage system. That won't be difficult and I'll handle it just fine. The changes to our standard healing protocol are predicted and I can stomach any rebalancing that comes with that. What I won't be able to tolerate is watching my shaman buddy running around while casting Healing Rain while a priest Life Grips a DPS into the rain effect while the druid pops Treeform into Tranquility, while I'm casting Flash of Holy Light on the tank for the thousandth time of the night.
So, as Ghostcrawler's arrival to deliver the tidings of good news from the development team approaches, we can only wait with bated breath for the upcoming paladin Cataclysm preview. We'll be up all night by the cold fireplace, sipping gin from a mug and reading the Gadgetzan Times. This is the moment every holy paladin has waited for since the moment we realized that we really only need two keybinds to do our job. It's on the development team's shoulders to make sure that our third healing button is actually worth pushing.
The Light and How to Swing It (Holy Edition) is dedicated to helping holy paladins become the powerful healers that we're destined to be. If you're new to the paladin's healing ways, you can learn the ropes with our Holy 101 article. We also have information on how to keep a tank alive, how to heal a raid when necessary, and how to beat the GCD. Tanking is a job, DPS is a craft -- but healing is truly an art.