The section of the patch 4.1 notes dedicated to holy paladins was particularly sparse this cycle. The only significant change was the buff to our Illuminated Healing mastery, as the Aura Mastery / Crusader Aura interaction was supposed to be changed some time ago. Some holy paladins may have been concerned with the note about Word of Glory receiving a 20-second cooldown, but luckily that's neutralized by an addition to Walk in the Light, one of our passive mastery bonuses.
The bulk of new content in patch 4.1 comes from the revamped troll instances of Zul'Gurub and Zul'Aman. New dungeons means new gear, and that includes several new epic items that are of interest to holy paladins. Guild challenges also introduce sizeable rewards for running dungeons in a guild group, and so you'll be dragged into healing these new 5-mans in no time. There's also the possibility that the new Call to Arms feature could yield bonus loot for healers volunteering to pug a heroic, but I haven't seen the little bag icon move from the tank icon since the patch's release.
Trying out our revitalized mastery
Illuminated Healing has gotten a lot of bad press in the past, this column included. I think that either letting the bubbles stack or allowing them to proc off Holy Radiance is still necessary, but the change it received is still welcomed. The duration was doubled, which should help them get used more often, though by how much? Since IH usually comes from direct heals, tanks are usually the bubble recipients, and they get hit pretty often already. Some of the initial numbers I've seen shared by other holy paladins show that mastery has significantly improved, although I am reserving my judgement until I can test it myself.
I plan to reforge my gear down to a reasonable level of haste (based on the Holy Radiance table) and then keep any remaining mastery while reforging the excess crit to mastery as well. I do a fair mix of raid and tank healing, and so I'm interested to see how much of a difference mastery makes. Haste is clearly the best stat in every way for raid healing, but mastery may have a place for fights with heavy tank damage. Heroic Halfus comes to mind, and I find that any extra healing during that fight's opening minutes can be lifesaving.
New gear from the troll dungeons
If you're like me, you're still waiting for Cho'gall to drop his Shackles of the End of Days, which was our only option for epic healing bracers outside of heroic Sinestra. There's now a new pair of bracers in Zul'Aman, the Bracers of Hidden Purpose, which drop from Akil'zon, the Eagle Avatar. I think their purpose isn't hidden that well, as they're obviously designed to provide holy paladins with another option for epic bracers. They're not perfectly itemized or anything, but they're definitely better than whatever blue bracers you're wearing now. I have been dragging my guild through Zul'Aman all week, hoping that between Akil'zon and Cho'gall, I'll be able to round out my gear.
The other item I've got my eye on also comes from Zul'Aman and drops from Hex Lord Malacrass. It's a perfectly itemized healing ring named the Soul Drain Signet. I currently use both of the caster rings from the valor points vendor, and so even though this ring is great, I don't think it's worth the intellect loss to downgrade from a ilvl 359 item to a 353. If you don't have two epic rings, definitely look into picking this one up. Most of the other plate healing gear from Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub is either not well-itemized or easily filled with a similar item from the valor points vendor. If you need an epic weapon, Daakara of Zul'Aman can hook you up with the Amani Scepter of Rites, which is both functional and fashionable. He's all the way at the end of Zul'Aman, so I wish you luck as you trek through the other animal spirits.
Healing in the Zuls
If you've been to Zul'Gurub or Zul'Aman before, then you know the general flow of the instance and each boss' special abilities. While they've undergone some serious changes for lore and balance reasons, the general idea of both dungeons have been retained through patch 4.1. There are several new boss mechanics and strategies to familiarize yourself with, and you'll want to be prepared when you walk in. If you enjoy finding out things on the fly and facing a totally new boss, that's fine too, but most PUGs or guild groups will expect you to know your way around.
The usual good advice of staying out of fire/ground effects and standing behind and away from the boss still stands. I tend to lean pretty hard on my Divine Light button during new encounters, as I'm never certain when someone might take an extra spike of damage. Focus on getting through an encounter first, and then go back and start smoothing out your strategy once you've got the boss down. Since dungeon encounters are so short, you can usually abuse your expensive heals in exchange for keeping everyone alive.
A lot of the fight mechanics will either kill a player instantly or wipe the group if you fail to execute properly, and so you get instant feedback if you're doing something wrong. If you're looking for detailed guides to each instance's bosses and trash, Allison wrote an amazing guide for Zul'Aman and another guide for Zul'Gurub. I won't be writing specific guides for each boss, as the strategy is usually "heal your tank and whoever else takes damage," and that's not very interesting. Ask any specific encounter questions you have in the comments and I'll answer them with a detailed response.
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.