I still remember my very first character. After logging in on the first day WoW was released, I chose a paladin at the character select screen, hoping to embody the role of "holy crusader." I started leveling up my character, and once I hit level 10, I had to decide on a talent specialization. I was waffling between retribution and protection, until I saw holy's 31-point talent. Holy Shock called out to me. It was the only ranged attack that a paladin could obtain, and I was certain it would lead me to victory. Consecration's place in the tree was just icing on the cake. Unfortunately, once I hit level 40 and obtained Holy Shock, I realized just how awful it was for DPS. I never played that paladin again.
We're getting two new AoE heals with Cataclysm's arrival, something we've desperately needed for years. Our holy talent tree is getting a revamp, and much of the clutter it previously contained is disappearing. We're seeing numerous quality of life improvements like the extension to Beacon of Light's duration and a newly revamped Lay on Hands. All of these changes are nice, but there's one that has me even more excited. Blizzard has granted us every single element necessary to facilitate a caster DPS holy build, featuring Holy Shock as the signature spell. While rumors and whispers of the shockadin spec have been circling around since WoW's release, it is now a reality.
Requirements for a caster DPS build
Now, I'm no expert on caster DPS, but I have been studying their playstyles in order to plan out my shockadin strategy. From what I understand, there are four keys to every successful caster DPS build: a spammable nuke, a hard-hitting blast for burst, cooldowns to activate during certain timing windows, and talents and glyphs to bolster the previous three concepts. Holy paladins have had only one of these four for the past few years, with Holy Shock providing a strong burst ability with nothing else to support it. Cataclysm has dropped each of the other three necessary elements right in our laps.
Exorcism -- or rather, Holy Bolt
Frostbolt. Shadow Bolt. Whatever single button arcane mages are pushing now. The other casters all have their own spammable nuke spells that makes up the core of their rotation, and paladins have finally found theirs in Exorcism now that its cooldown has been removed. The other healer classes all had caster DPS specs available to them, so they already had spells like Smite and Lightning Bolt built in. Exorcism, while located in the holy tree, has really only been used by retribution paladins in recent memory. Holy paladins are taking the spell back, and it's the core spell of our shockadin build. Previously, we simply didn't have any attacks to use.
Exorcism's special sauce comes from how powerful its base damage is. The initial damage is so massive that when compared to a spell like Shadow Bolt, it does more damage, even though its scaling is worse. In fact, with the talents in place to support it, an unbuffed paladin's Exorcism will hit harder than a warlock's Shadow Bolt up until 6,000 spellpower. Exorcism is a heavy hitter, and its short cast time also means that it's very easy for us to sneak in Exorcisms while moving a lot or even when we're supposed to be healing. It's 30-yard range is short for a nuke, but it still allows a shockadin to destroy his target from a ranged position.
Holy Shock is our big gun
Holy Shock is sort of the Pyroblast!/Hot Streak mechanic of the shockadin build, as it provides us with an instant-cast ability that hits really hard. Holy Shock has great support from talents, and this makes it the hardest-hitting spell in our arsenal. The fact that it can also be used on the move is simply more icing on the cake. It shares the same 30-yard range as Exorcism when used to damage an enemy, and so holy paladins are going to have to make an effort to stay within 30 yards of their opponent.
The reason Holy Shock is so important to the holy paladin is that it provides an opportunity for burst damage. We can attack with a cast Exorcism and then immediately follow up with an instant Holy Shock, effectively striking with two of our abilities at once. This lets us take out targets that are trying to heal or run away, and it really the one-two punch that will let us chew through mobs and enemy players faster than ever. Holy Shock's short cooldown ensures that we'll be able to integrate it into our rotation easily, using it every time it's available.
Divine Favor isn't just for healing anymore
It used to be that Divine Illumination was the best mana-saving ability in the game, especially since we could refresh Beacon and Sacred Shield during its duration to save thousands of mana. Its replacement, Divine Favor, has scrapped the mana reduction component for a serious boost to both our spell haste and critical strike chance for the duration for the spell. It's now actually an amazing DPS cooldown, as it lets us unleash more Exorcisms in a shorter amount of time while ensuring that they also have a higher critical strike chance. While it's easy to cap haste at level 80 by reforging and gemming, it will be much harder as new level 85s. Divine Favor's potency increases in this situation, as we can take advantage of all of the haste and crit.
Avenging Wrath provides a powerful second cooldown that can also be teamed with Divine Favor to turn is into miniature 3-minute mages for the duration. The most important part of a shockadin's viability is actually our new holy power release, Inquisition. It gives us a solid 30 percent boost to all holy damage done, which will have us wrecking any target. Unfortunately, it means we won't have any holy power left to use Word of Glory. With Divine Favor granting us 20 percent extra crit and haste, Avenging Wrath boosting our damage output by 20 percent and Inquisition yielding another 30 percent extra holy damage on top of that, our ability to deliver damage in burst phases is going to be incredibly potent.
The nuts and bolts are all there
I am certain that whoever designed the new holy talent tree had the shockadin in mind. Whether it's the 20 percent boost to both Holy Shock and Exorcism in Blazing Light or the serious mana cost reduction of Denounce, the tree has all the trimmings for a powerful caster DPS build. Enlightened Judgements even ensures that we never have to worry about having any hit rating on our gear, and we can simply gear up as normal healers. There's also the new damage boost we see from having Conviction in the holy tree; we can even get Crusade in the first tier of retribution to make Holy Shock really hurt.
We even have some decent glyphs available, especially the Holy Shock glyph which is useful for both healing and DPS. Unfortunately, the Exorcism glyph is fairly weak right now. The DoT created by the glyph overwrites any previous glyph DoTs, and if you're casting fast enough, you'll actually never see any of the DoT ticks. Also, it appears to be bugged, and the DoT does nowhere near 20 percent of the Exorcism damage. It's unfortunately, but unless Blizzard changes the mechanic on how the glyph works, it's really not that powerful for single-target DPS. I actually recommend the Divine Favor glyph, which extends the duration of our burst phase. Considering that we'll still be healing in raids and only swapping to DPS to help our guild burst through a difficult phase, having potent cooldowns is important in maximizing our damage during that short time.
The shockadin is still not perfect
While the build is completely viable for leveling and even running dungeons, there are still a few things that will really keep it relegated to our secondary spec in any serious environment. The first is that all of our damaging abilities only crit for 150 percent of their original values, which is a serious step down from every other caster DPS build. This means that we scale worse with gear and that any other caster will always be a step ahead. In addition, we simply don't have the wide-scale talent support that the other casters enjoy. Our shockadin talents are potent, but we don't have an entire tree dedicated to boosting our damage.
We're also without a powerful AoE ability to help in multi-target scenarios, and we're missing all of the DPS utility spells like debuffs and crowd control abilities that mages and warlocks have. We're always going to be a second-tier caster, which means that we're going to end up healing in any raid or heroic environment. The key to the shockadin build is that it gives us a viable solo DPS path and allows us to provide powerful burst damage during critical phases of an encounter to push it over the edge. There are several times where we don't need to be healing immediately, but a bit more damage could cause that Val'kyr to die sooner or XT-002's heart to break a little faster. That's where the shockadin niche will really fit in well with a serious raid group.
The upside is that the differences between a shockadin build and a regular holy paladin setup are slight, with most of the talents and glyphs being shared between the two. I fully plan to be a full-time healer and a part-time shockadin, keeping my raid alive when they need it and unloading some awesome holy damage any time someone tries to mess with me in the open world. I was even able to use my shockadin build in my Icecrown Citadel run this week, using my Exorcism DPS to help break Lady Deathwhisper's shield early and concentrating on nuking Deathbringer Saurfang before he cast his first mark.
The Light and How to Swing It (Holy Edition) helps holy paladins become the powerful healers we're destined to be. Learn the ropes in Holy 101. We can help you keep a tank alive, heal a raid when necessary and beat the global cooldown. Tanking is a job, DPS is a craft -- but healing is truly an art.