Do any of you remember raiding Naxxramas, back at the start of Wrath? What now seems so trivial today was actually pretty easy back then too, considering that guilds in level 70 gear cleared it on their first night in. Even considering how simple raiding was at that point, loot drama could still occur. A guild on my server, one of the larger and more successful guilds too, disbanded over a loot dispute. It wasn't about whether or not hunters should be allowed to roll on one-handed items (they shouldn't), but rather about whether an item with spellpower, mana per 5, and haste should be given to a healer. The item in question is the Torch of Holy Fire, which today, we would clearly state is a healer weapon: MP5 means that a healer should be using it.
However, one of the guild's elemental shamans contested that it was also best-in-slot for him, and that DPS classes deserved gear before healers did. His argument was that letting the DPS gear up was more important than giving items to healers, because more DPS meant quicker boss fights. Once an encounter was beaten, additional healing did nothing to push progression. While the idea of a guild focusing on gearing their tanks first and everyone else second is not that uncommon, the idea of DPS superiority over healing was divisive enough to rip this group apart. Healers were arguing for their fellow brethren, while DPS derided them for being selfish. Paladins were particularly focused on, since critical strike rating was far more desirable back then and we were rolling on sp/haste/crit gear along with every other caster DPS class. Luckily for us, things have changed a lot since those early Wrath months.
So while critical strike was one of our most powerful stats back in the day, it's now stuck below MP5 in terms of overall benefit. The upside of this change is that now we're rolling on more MP5 gear, which keeps us out of the DPS classes' hair. In Cataclysm, we'll actually be rolling on gear with spirit on it (don't get started now though), and the healer versus DPS gear war will finally be put to bed. At least until we find out Blizzard is buffing Illumination back to its original 100% mana return. I can dream, right?
Emblems of Triumph gear choices
I'm assuming by now that you've got yourself a decent set of gear to run heroics with, since you can use my guide to reputation loot and any random drops that you've picked up while healing dungeons to further you towards becoming raid ready. At this point, the easiest way to gear up is to use the random dungeon finder and abuse the short healer queues to run as many heroics as possible. The steady income of triumph emblems will have your GearScore and healing potency rocketing towards relevance. A quick note on any Emblems of Frost you score from running the random daily heroic or the weekly raid quest: focus on picking up two pieces of your tier-10 set, particularly the shoulders first. If you've got gold and a hole in your pocket, feel free to scoop any item on this list of awesome BoE items that you can grab off the auction house.
Our first purchase
Your first item choice is actually a really easy decision: Talisman of Resurgence. This trinket remains best-in-slot outside of raiding, and is actually pretty good even then. The on-use spellpower ability is easy to couple to your Divine Plea, which will help counter the healing reduction normally incurred. It's also pretty much the best trinket to have on a fight like Valithria, where you know you're going to need a ton of healing at a very particular point in time. The massive amount of intellect make this trinket so powerful in terms of longevity and regeneration, and with a great on-use on top of that, there's really no way to beat this trinket. Save your first 50 triumph emblems for this beauty, you'll be glad you did.
So now you've got a pretty awesome trinket, and it's time to start figuring out what to shoot for next. Unfortunately for us, our tier-9 set bonuses were pretty terrible, and the set wasn't that well itemized either. The gloves are actually pretty sweet, and they're only 30 emblems, so pick these up first and leave your other set slots to tier-10 or non-set gear. For another really cheap purchase, you can pick up the Heartmender Circle, which is a great ring even without any haste on it. There's not a lot of haste rings out there, so we can't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Depending on how fast you've been accumulating emblems of triumph versus emblems of frost, you may want to explore grabbing Shoulderplates of the Cavalier if your tier-10 shoulders are still a long way out. They're awesome shoulders, better than the basic tier-9 option, and they're cheap on the emblem budget as well. If you're actually accruing frost emblems at a decent pace, you may opt to save up your triumph emblems and pick up a helm instead, namely the Headguard of Inner Warmth. I know it's mail armor, but it beats the plate helmet so bad that it's not even funny.
Put your Nightmare Tear gem into your helm
The Headguard will also allow you to grab a decent meta gem, and is a great place to throw your Nightmare Tear that will activate that meta. The 9 spellpower is a pretty serious socket bonus, and by using the Tear in your helmet, you ensure that swapping out any other piece of gear doesn't affect your meta bonus. You just replace the Nightmare Tear every time you replace your helmet, and your meta is always activated. The best holy paladin helms of the last few tiers have had a blue socket with a sizable bonus, so there's no reason to rock the boat and socket anything else.
Once you've picked up the core pieces from emblems of triumph, it's time to start evaluating your current gear. Look for slots where you're still using a blue item, or a lower level epic, like an ilvl 200 or 213. These are the slots we'll want to focus on replacing first, and there are quite a variety of ways to do so. The new ICC 5-man heroics have quite a few great pieces of holy gear, spread out across the 3 dungeons. You can also pick up a few decent items from the ToC 5-man heroic, though this gear is already fading into obsolescence.
If one of your core slots still needs a decent item, picking up the chest or pants from our tier-9 set isn't the worst thing in the world. They're better than lower level alternatives, but be sure to keep your eyes open for any ilvl 226 item or above that is properly itemized. If you're hurting on a necklace, you can start turning your triumph emblems into Emblems of Conquest and buy the Frozen Tear of Elune. There's also a decent belt available, the Windchill Binding, which is again a mail item but since we're not rolling against a shaman for it, we're OK.
At some point, it doesn't make too much sense to be running heroics for emblems of triumph, and then converting them down to Emblems of Valor to pick up gear that is several tiers behind. I would stop at getting all of the emblem of triumph and conquest gear, and then buying epic gems with the rest of your emblems. You can use these in your gear to give you a boost, or sell them for gold and use that cash to craft yourself a few epic items. There are a few items in particular that are better than the others, and are relatively cheap to craft.
As a general rule, it is cheaper to make a mail item than it is to make a plate item. This is due to the high demand for all metal ores, by jewelcrafters, engineers, and blacksmiths. Leather, on the other hand, is often neglected and can be picked up for a very reasonable price. If you have the money, I'd recommend crafting yourself a set of Black Chitin Bracers and an Ensorcelled Nerubian Breastplate. There's no other decent bracers available outside of a raid, and the chest is best-in-slot unless you're raiding ICC or ToGC-25. You can use any excess emblems of triumph to buy the Crusader orbs, and the rest of the materials can usually be obtained for under a thousand gold. For the quality of these items, and the amount of time that they'll last you, they are well worth the investment.
If you really have a glut of emblems, or your guild has a cache of Runed Orbs that they never spent in Ulduar, you can craft yourself a Plate Girdle of Righteousness or a pair of Treads of Destiny. Both of these are incredibly well itemized and sport two sockets each, which gives them the ability to outshine their relatively low ilvl. Price out Titansteel Bars versus the cost of the materials, since Smelt Titansteel no longer has a cooldown and you can get it done relatively cheap now. The upside of these two items is that they fill relatively difficult slots for holy paladins: it especially seems like we're always wearing boots from a tier ago. I was using Poignant Sabatons well into Ulduar, and my Sabatons of the Courageous lasted me until heroic Rotface last week!
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what items to pick up and which to pass on, as well as giving you a decent idea of which items to pick up first and which to wait on. I will make a quick note about weapons here: holy paladin weapons are hard to find, and there's nothing wrong with using Seethe if you can't find anything to replace it with. Shields are an even rarer find, so I'd suggest buying the heroism emblem shield if you can't find another, and then raiding as much as possible to score an upgrade. There is a decent shield in the normal Pit of Saron, so you can queue for that a few times and hope you get lucky.
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.