From launch until Cataclysm, holy paladins survived on just a handful of heals. We traded healing complexity for unique utility, gaining Aura Mastery instead of Wild Growth or using Hand of Freedom instead of Prayer of Mending. Holy paladin healing was so simple for so many years, as we tended to gravitate toward a single spell like Flash of Light or Holy Light in each expansion. While any other healing class could have complained that their class had become stagnant, holy paladins had literally been playing the same game of whack-a-mole for years.
Cataclysm's massive retooling of paladins and introduction of the three-heal model helped breathe new life into playing holy. Holy power gave us a unique mechanic to manage and gave us additional choices to make when healing. The three-heal model ensures that we're forced to choose between throughput and efficiency, and now we're challenged with managing our mana as well as our healing. Even though these changes drastically shifted the way we play our paladins, we were still relying on the same single-target heals we had always been. Healing Hands, now known as Holy Radiance, was the spell designed to upset the status quo.
Holy Radiance failed
Now that it's dead, I'll come out and say it: Holy Radiance's original design was lazy and we deserved better. Instead of taking the risk of breaking holy paladins in order to give us a true AOE heal, we were simply told to pop an instant heal every 30 seconds and we'd heal everyone in range of us. Once Holy Radiance was activated, a holy paladin's AOE rotation was no different from his normal healing protocol. There were no decisions to make; there was no choice involved at all. You simply popped HR whenever you wanted to heal the raid, and then went about your business as usual. Once again, holy paladins were stuck using their single-target heals to cover raid-wide incoming damage.
Holy Radiance's initial incarnation, Healing Hands, was the same HR of today but with a shorter duration and shorter cooldown. Holy Radiance's design has been flawed since its inception. Using one instant-cast spell every 15, 30, or 60 seconds doesn't make holy paladin AOE healing interesting or different. Every other healer in the game has different healing strategies for their different roles, and holy paladins deserve the same complexity. Holy Radiance's one job was to liven up our AOE capabilities, and while it did give us more potency, it failed to give us new choices to make.
Examining what works
When we start looking at classes with successful AOE healing capabilities, we see that there are several different ways to accomplish the same task. Restoration shaman use a fun mix of Riptide, Chain Heal, and Healing Rain to handle raid-wide damage. Riptide and Chain Heal are synergistic, with Riptide's HOT buffing Chain Heal's potency. Healing Rain provides them with a set-it-and-forget-it AOE heal they can unleash when the entire raid needs some love.
Druids can choose to blanket the raid in HOTs before the incoming damage arrives, they can use their AOE heals like Wild Growth to hit multiple targets at once, and Efflorescence gives them an area-based heal as well. Priests have a similar mix of on-demand healing like Circle of Healing and Prayer of Healing that they can supplement with area-based heals like Holy Word: Sanctuary and Power Word: Barrier. They're also receiving a newly revitalized Divine Hymn in patch 4.3, which means my article on priests where I stated that Divine Hymn was a powerful raid cooldown will actually be proven right. You're welcome, priests.
If you break it down to the basics, in order to make AOE healing interesting, a healer needs a specific set of spells to cast in AOE damage situations. The exact mechanics of those spells can vary, but the point is that we need some special spells to cast. By having certain spells used for single-target healing and other spells used for multiple-target healing, you enable the healer to choose what they want to do. Holy paladins have never had this choice before. Ever.
Better late than never
The new Holy Radiance is scary to a lot of holy paladins, as it should be. It represents a healing paradigm shift unlike anything we've ever experienced. As healers, we understood how to manage our mana, so Cataclysm's changes weren't that drastic. As holy paladins, we understood how to choose between a limited selection of heals, picking the right one of the job. Beacon of Light and Aura Mastery are still intact, and our Hand spells are old friends at this point. We have gotten complacent.
The new Holy Radiance isn't going to fit nicely into today's healing strategies. We are going to have to stop casting Holy Light and Divine Light on nearly every GCD, which is something that I haven't done for years. With Light of Dawn receiving a few tweaks in patch 4.3 as well, we might actually have a real AOE toolbox on our hands here. Rather than spending a single global on our AOE healing spell, we're going to have to choose targets and cast a few HRs across the raid. We are going to have to consider everyone's positioning when casting HR, as well as managing the holy power points that we're generating.
Our AOE healing rotation will likely consist of a couple of Holy Radiances cast on different targets (so that we don't overwrite the HOT) followed by maybe a Holy Shock and a Light of Dawn. We can actually completely stop casting single-target heals and focus on AOE healing. Our Illuminated Healing mastery affects the initial AOE heal from Holy Radiance, and initial PTR testing shows the initial heal also being transferred through Beacon of Light. Holy Radiance has plenty of talents to support it, including being added to Infusion of Light. We're on the verge of having a fully developed AOE healing system, and as scary as it may seem, I can't wait.
The Light and How to Swing It: Holy helps holy paladins become the powerful healers we're destined to be. Find out just how masterful mastery healing can be, gear up with the latest gear, and learn how to PVP as a holy paladin.