In early 2010, WoW Insider decided that it was in our readers' best interests to start breaking up our weekly class editorials into separate columns for some of the hybrid specs. Instead of trying to tackle the responsibility of covering all three paladins specs, Gregg and I split the paladin duties. He covers the specs that love strength while I cover the spec that stacks intellect, and we occasionally dip into each other's territory when applicable.
Writing about healing was a brand new experience for me, as my rogue columns were really focused on the cut-and-dry topic of maximizing DPS. I figured that covering a healing role was a much more nebulous topic, as there is usually more than one way to do the job. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for holy paladins, as our love-hate relationship (mostly love) with intellect dictated just about every aspect of our playstyle.
Remembering Icecrown Citadel
It's hard to believe that we were actually raiding Icecrown Citadel a year ago, as the memory seems so fresh in my mind. I suppose that's due to the fact that most people were still raiding it well into the fall, but that's a story for another time. Just as holy paladins were able to crucial elements in exploiting Yogg-Saron via self-healing and Righteous Fury and Anub'arak via Holy Wrath with a glyph, we were the all-stars of ICC healing.
The relationship between holy paladins, intellect, and haste hit critical mass as we equipped our new Icecrown gear. We were easily reaching the haste soft cap, our intellect created mana pools so massive that we couldn't run out of mana, and the ability to double Holy Light's built-in throughput via Beacon of Light ensured that we were all but required for any serious boss encounter. Blizzard's developers admitted that they had to design incoming boss damage around the assumption that there was a holy paladin in the raid; otherwise, our presence would trivialize the encounter.
Our potency on the first 11 fights in Icecrown, while amazing, wasn't even what set us apart. All of the ICC bosses were pushovers when compared to the ultimate challenge that awaited us on the Frozen Throne: Arthas. As I discussed at the time, our abilities seemed perfectly suited to counter the Lich King's every move. Aura Mastery prevented Infest from destroying the raid, while Holy Wrath simplified killing Val'kyr, and Holy Light and Hand of Sacrifice were the cures for Soul Reaper. The perfect synergy between holy paladins and the most difficult encounter in the game made us invaluable to conquering Arthas.
Powerful, yet boring
Even as we enjoyed being the most powerful healers around, many of us still lamented at the simple playstyle of the class. While it's true that we had a toolbox full of support abilities, our healing strategy had been reduced to "spam Holy Light" with no other option. Excessive amounts of haste blurred the line between Flash of Light and Holy Light to the point of irrelevance, and intellect made managing our mana trivial. We didn't have any of the engaging healing mechanics of the other classes, and our AoE healing was particularly non-existent. Because of these limitations, we were always relegated to healing the tanks and nothing else. We needed some serious changes, and Blizzard came through for us in the Cataclysm beta. While welcoming the Sunwalkers to the fold was cool, bigger changes were en route.
Two heals and a new bar
While it took the developers some time to figure out what they wanted to name our new abilities, it was clear from the start that we needed several new heals to have us successfully able to fill any role. Holy Radiance and Light of Dawn have both been through several iterations, with Light of Dawn being completely redesigned more than once. The final result was a more complete holy paladin, with our tank healing capabilities intact and our newfound AoE heals supporting the raid.
Not content with simply tossing us a few heals, Blizzard also granted us a new mechanic: holy power. It was a massive change to the status quo of simply using mana, and we joined the good company of hunters and warlocks of classes that received new resource schemes in Cataclysm. Holy power ensures that even as we are healing the raid or the tanks, we'll be monitoring our holy power and planning our ability usage. Instead of simply being able to spam Light of Dawn and breaking the game again, holy power serves as a built-in limiter to control our potency.
While I was initially hesitant about holy power, it's proven itself to be quite fun in practice. Healing is definitely a more interesting job now, and no two fights are exactly the same to heal. Not only do we have the tools to handle both single-target and AoE damage, we have the diversity of heals necessary to make doing either job sufficiently interactive. Mana management is a game we haven't had to play in years, and I'm happy to actually have choices to make instead of one button to spam.
The most changed class
While hunters may have switched from mana to focus and death knights saw their rune recharging mechanics revamped, holy paladins saw the biggest changes by far. Blizzard's team saved the best for last when announcing the class changes, and their massive impact have completely reshaped the way that holy paladins play the game. Other healers are still struggling with integrating the healing changes into their existing toolkits; holy paladins had to adopt an entirely new mindset to continue to be effective. The changes have added flexibility and depth to a spec that was previously one of the most mindless, and I hope that's a trend that continues on in the year to come.
The Light and How to Swing It: Holy helps holy paladins become the powerful healers we're destined to be. Learn the ropes in Cataclysm 101 for holy paladins, study the new balance between intellect and spirit and learn how to level your new Sunwalker. Tanking is a job, DPS is a craft -- but healing is truly an art.