Blizzard dropped a bombshell on us today and no, it has nothing to do with Real ID. Talent trees as we know them are going to change much more in Cataclysm than we could have ever predicted. You will now be locked into a talent tree until you reach 31 points in that tree and you only get talents every other level or so. This is going to cause much smaller talent trees overall as well as afford them the opportunity to differentiate specs more from an earlier point.
How will less points and smaller trees differentiate you as? Why, because you get a bunch of passive bonuses as well as an ability for putting that first point into your initial tree. That means at level 10, you'll receive a lot of defining perks and bonuses baseline. There isn't much information available to us at this point and what we do have is sometimes rather vague. But that being said, we're going to make some guesses on what this means for us melee paladins (sorry, healadins, but I'll let Chase cover what this will mean for you).
I can see a few very important things that we could be getting as passive benefits. The first being critical strike reduction. I'd written an article just after the NDA lifted talking about how the four tanking specs were receiving their crit reduction talents in very different ways. In our case, it was only 1 talent point, but it was causing Holy Shield's talent text to be extremely poorly worded. By attaching crit reduction to a passive benefit for the tree itself all four tanking specs are better prepared up front and it removes any inconsistencies for us to complain about in the forums.
My second passive benefit prediction is Sanctuary. Getting resource return on our blocks, dodges, and parries is important as mana burning tanks. Baking this into the spec would be nice, but it's still possible it will be a talent available at something like 11 points into the tree. There is still so much that we don't know at this point.
Touched by the Light is another good option for a baseline passive benefit as it helps our ability scaling so that we can keep decent threat with all of our hybrid spells. As a spec that uses strength based plate, but uses abilities which also scale off of spell power, it's something we need help dealing with.
As silly as it sounds, the ability to use shields could be baked into this for both holy and prot. If you take a look at some of the newer paladin DPS abilities from Wrath and now Cataclysm, if they don't want retribution to use a damage ability then it requires the use of a shield. A change like this could do more than just gently nudge retribution away from such abilities (much the way warriors swap to shields for certain abilities) it would flat remove them from even possible use.
There's honestly only one ability I think they'll give you for choosing protection and that's Holy Shield. It's a fairly core part of being a protection paladin and something that will lower your damage taken and help increase threat from the reflective damage. Plus, there's not much point of having a tree based on blocking when it takes you 40 levels to be able to block properly. We'll have Crusader Strike available to us at level 1 and Holy Shock at about level 40 for things to put in our rotation allowing something akin to the 969 rotation that we currently use at 80 with a judgement, Crusader Strike, Holy Shield, Holy Shock, and Consecration.
These will likely stay fairly similar to the way they are. Blizzard has been really happy with their Vengeance concept for allowing tanks to keep up with their DPS counterparts at higher gear levels. For those of you who haven't kept up with the deluge of Cataclysm news, the Mastery bonus Vengeance increases your attack power by a percentage of your health equal to double your Vengeance percentage. So, the higher your health is, the higher your attack power bonus is. Also, this is one of the passive Mastery bonuses, so you don't get to increase it with the new Mastery stat.
Damage Reduction, while boring in and of itself is something we'll always say yes to. With a large chunk of talents being cut from the tree, this passive Mastery bonus could be bumped up a bit to account for the loss in some of the survivability some of those talents brought with them.
Lastly, we've got our active Mastery bonus (the one that the Mastery stat on gear will increase) which is Block Chance. As I said earlier, we're a tanking class built around block, even moreso than prot warriors. This is also part of the reason why I think we'll get Holy Shield as our active ability as it just makes sense for the tree as a whole.
One thing that they've said they have wanted to do for retribution is give us a way to lower our cooldowns based on haste. I'm not talking about our global cooldown, but our actual ability cooldowns. This might be a way to bake it into the spec without it being available to either protection or holy.
However, it will likely be something akin to Sheath of Light that provides our attack power to spell power conversion. This is a fairly important talent which is currently buried deep within the tree. Moving it from deep talent to tree perk would allow for better scaling of abilities while leveling and let our heals be useful while soloing content.
Divine Storm. They said it. By level 10 you've got both Divine Storm and Crusader Strike. The talent Divine Storm is going to be replaced by another yet to be named ability. If you haven't blocked the boredom that is playing a low level paladin from your mind, this is a major coup.
However, DS isn't at the power it was previously. Its damage has been halved from 110% weapon damage to 55%. This is part of a move to prevent abilities from being good against single and multiple opponents. As such, we'll likely see our new 31 point ability be a single target damage skill. It will not be Repentance despite Ghostcrawler's sarcasm.
Let's face it, our tree is filled with critical strike bonus talents. Sometimes it's adding crit to one ability while others just add flat crit to everything. I have a feeling a lot of these talents will be removed or consolidated meaning that our passive Mastery bonus for crit will probably be bumped up a little bit either that or the lack of crit is the norm now and we'll be getting more of it from gear.
Our other current bonuses are extra damage and extra holy damage. I have a feeling that this will be combined somewhat and we'll be seeing a different mastery bonus. However, that's pure speculation at this point. Predicting retribution is fairly difficult as the class in Wrath is fairly simple overall and Blizzard has said they want to add a lot more depth to it. So a lot of things could be added, removed, or changed before the expansion launches which could add that depth we so desperately need.
The Light and How to Swing It tries to help Paladins cope with the dark times coming in Cataclysm. See the upcoming Paladin changes the expansion will bring. Wrath is coming to a close and the final showdown with the Lich King is here. With Cataclysm soon heating things up, will you be ready?