When the first notes were shown for the upcoming patch 4.2, holy paladins started worrying. The mana cost of our heals is slated to skyrocket, putting fear into our typically stalwart hearts. We've been through the buff and nerf cycle before, but that doesn't make facing the music any easier. There's something painful about logging in to a character that's weaker than when you left it.
While the initial news was dire, the developers had some additional changes in mind. The nerf to Holy Shock's mana cost was reversed, and several of our other heals were tweaked in our favor. Established healers should be able to handle the mana increases with more conservative play, but new holy paladins will be faced with the task of healing with less mana after the patch. When our heals are seemly rebalanced with each patch, it's difficult to constantly readjust your healing strategy.
Balancing our heals
Zarhym, one of Blizzard's community managers, says that holy paladins are casting Divine Light too often and not relying on Holy Light's efficiency. According to Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler's latest blog, the developers want us to use Holy Light in more situations, especially in situations when we previously would've used Divine Light. When we read the patch notes, Divine Light's mana cost went up significantly while the spell itself remained stagnant. Holy Light now transfers 100% of the heal to our Beacon target. The writing on the wall is clear: Use Holy Light instead of Divine Light. But if we look deeper, there's an additional message hidden between the lines: Divine Light is getting out of control.
In one of the best forum posts I've ever seen, player Anohako broke down the casting habits of each type of healer. Much to nobody's surprise, holy paladins spend more time casting Holy Light (the efficient heal) and Divine Light (the big/slow heal) than any other healers. We've always been a healing class that's bound to our basic heals, and Cataclysm didn't do much to change that. Holy Shock and the holy power releases are used every once in a while, but we really only have our "three-heal model" heals to spam.
We're back to two buttons
According to Anohako's data, holy paladins spend more time casting our efficient heal (Holy Light) than any of the other healers. Why do the developers want us to cast Holy Light more often when we already cast it more often than any other healer? The reason is that we also use Divine Light more than any other healers use their big/slow heal, and by a much larger margin. On normal mode encounters, we tend to lean on Holy Light first and Divine Light second. On heroic encounters, that ratio is reversed, with Divine Light being used for over a third of our healing casts.
Holy Light and Divine Light may be great, but it's not their fault that we lean on them. Flash of Light is incredibly expensive, and it lacks the talent synergy of Healing Surge or Flash Heal to tip the scales in its favor. Holy Radiance and Holy Shock are both locked by cooldowns, while Word of Glory and Light of Dawn are similarly bound by holy power. Holy Light and Divine Light aren't the greatest heals since sliced bread, they're simply the only heals that we have available. We use the HL/DL combo so often because there isn't any other way to get the job done.
Avoiding Holy Light syndrome
In Wrath, holy paladins effectively had two heals, Holy Light and Flash of Light. Holy Light was big and powerful; Flash of Light was quick and cheap. The model made sense in that era, and the assumption was that we'd use Flash of Light to conserve our mana and Holy Light to spend it when someone was getting beat hard. Due to issues with scaling, we were able to reach levels of haste and mana that completely broke the model. Holy Light became the only button we pushed, and it resulted in one of the most uninteresting periods of holy paladin history. The most boring period crown still goes to the Burning Crusade era, when a downranked version of Flash of Light could be cast indefinitely, so we literally only pushed a single button for minutes at a time.
The developers are trying to avoid that type of strategy collapse with the patch 4.2 changes. Our haste and mana values are going to go up every tier. It's not speculation; that's how gear upgrades work. As we become more powerful, the penalties of Divine Light become less and less restrictive, to the point that we can again completely eschew our efficient heal in favor of our bigger heal. Our history was starting to repeat itself.
Reverting back to the Wrath model of healing would be a huge step back for holy paladins. Our toolbox isn't perfect, but it's more robust now than it has ever been. In order to preserve the tentative balance between Holy Light and Divine Light, the developers have created a gap between the spells to clearly identify their roles.
Holy Light is for raid healing and Divine Light is for tank healing. Using Divine Light on the raid is inefficient, since half of the heal is lost when Beacon replays it, while Holy Light is ineffective for tank healing since it's simply too weak. By putting HL back onto the 100% Beacon transfer track, its position as a raid heal is cemented. As long as HL remains necessary, DL won't be able to monopolize our casts as the previous version of HL did in Wrath. The devs had made this mistake once before, and they've learned from that experience.
Other changes on the way
When reviewing the other patch 4.2 changes, it's clear that the developers are working to wean us off of the HL/DL duo. Holy Radiance's cooldown is being reduced in patch 4.2 via Speed of Light, allowing us to use it more often. Holy Shock's mana cost is being reduced and the spell is being tied to our two-piece tier bonus, making it always desirable to cast on cooldown. Word of Glory is being buffed to the point of dominance, providing us with another strong single-target heal. Flash of Light will have no cast time with the Infusion of Light buff, giving it a niche as a powerful heal that's available on the move.
These changes aren't designed to balance our healing throughput; they're being implemented to rebalance our healing selections. Aside from the dangerously strong Divine Light, the developers buffed every other heal we have to prevent Wrath from happening to holy paladins all over again. They saw Divine Light rising to the throne left behind by Holy Light, and they promptly smacked it on the nose with a rolled-up set of patch notes.
I am refreshed to know that the developers are committed to healing spell diversity for holy paladins, and I think that the patch 4.2 changes go a long way towards ensuring that we are forced to make intelligent choices on which healing spells to use. The act of forcing us to choose between Holy Light and Divine Light may seem simple, but it's a step in the right direction.
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.