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The Light and How to Swing It: Something's gone terribly wrong

Zach Yonzon

So, having fun yet? I know I am. The changes to the class are great and I don't think I've had a more enjoyable time playing the game. Of course, it has a lot to do with the new, cool stuff brought about by Patch 3.0.2, most notably the Achievements system. I know I complained about them, but I'm really enjoying them, particularly the PvP ones. It's a good time to be a Paladin. Actually, it's a little too good.

The truth is, something's wrong with Retribution. There, I said it. I'm embarrassed to say it because I'm supposed to be celebrating it. I've waited for Retribution to be viable for so long that when the time finally arrives, I'm disgusted at myself for not being happy about it. Well, I'm really happy. But not happy about the fact that very nearly every Paladin is now specced Retribution. I'm certainly not happy about the fact that even undergeared Retribution Paladins are blowing things up in the Battlegrounds left and right. When a Retribution Paladin in blues can burst down a player with over 400 Resilience with some RNG -- and I've seen this happen -- there's something terribly wrong.

The problem
I hate to break it to you Retribution Paladins who suddenly find themselves dominating the Battlegrounds and getting Damage Control within the first five minutes -- you didn't just become good at PvP overnight. Really. When you crush that Season 4 Warrior with your Season 2 mace, it's not (necessarily) because you're awesome. If you suddenly find that other players -- well, other players who aren't Retadins, that is -- turn and run at the sight of you, trust me when I say it's not because of your Crusader's Scaled Shoulders, and certainly isn't your Oathkeeper.

Divine Storm being nerfed to deal Physical damage is a band-aid solution to a bigger issue. I'd prefer that it be Holy damage, but right now Retribution burst is being tuned down for PvP. At least Battleground PvP. In Arenas, a Retribution Paladin is still going to get kited because it's a coordinated PvP environment. And Paladins are still an incredibly kite-susceptible class. In the Battlegrounds, where chaos is the order of the day, a Retadin can wreak havoc because of unmitigated, imbalanced burst. I'm upset because it feels like it doesn't take any skill to play anymore.

Nowadays, when a Retadin tops the Battleground chart for Killing Blows or Damage Done, it's no longer something remarkable. In fact, it's kind of expected and boring. When I file screenshots of good games now, I have to put it in a folder with the asterisk *post Patch 3.0.2 just to remind me that it might not be because I played well but because the spec is simply too good at Level 70. That's the thing -- everything is tuned for Level 80 right now. All the 51-point abilities, in particular, are envisioned for a Level 80 environment.

The same goes for my damage in raids. Before Echoes of Doom, whenever I'd get into the Top 5 it was because I knew I was paying attention to my rotations. The only way I would do well was with a lot of hard work. I would throw Seal of Blood up exactly between my melee swing timer. I took my Haste Potions exactly when Avenging Wrath and Bloodlust Brooch were both up. It felt good because I knew I was working hard and making a point. Now, I'm not so sure. I work just as hard, but I don't know if I'm doing well or it's the spec.

It's like when Michael Schumacher used to win in Formula 1, critics used to accuse him of driving the best car. Or MotoGP's Valentino Rossi when he used to race and win on Honda, prompting him to switch to the unproven Yamaha just to shut his detractors up. I know motor sports probably aren't the best analogy for this, but you know what I mean. I just don't want people to think we're dominating Battlegrounds and topping Recount just because our spec is godly. As Blizzard says -- bring the player not the class, or in this case, spec.

The problematic solution
Of course, Blizzard will bring out the nerf bat. I know it feels like a kneejerk reaction, specially when players run to the forums crying with their tails between their legs. And many of them don't bother to mention that they got wtfpwned while wearing scrub gear. I trust in Blizzard to check their numbers, but the response frightens me. In Beta build 9138, Paladins got nerfed to the ground. And when I say 'to the ground', I mean insanely, ridiculously, soul-crushingly nerfed. The sad thing is, I'm not sure it actually solves the problem.

For one thing, the nerfs are applied across the board, reducing the damage done by all Seals, not just Seal of Command or Blood / of the Martyr. This means that all Paladins of every spec will be affected by the change. Holy Paladins are already hurting on the damage end, and this nerf reduces their damage output even more. Blizzard has been tuning Seal damage downwards for several Beta builds now, and Holy Paladins keep hurting because of it. The Holy spec has been crying out for a bone to be thrown its way with respect to this.

Another problem about reducing Retribution burst is that it doesn't address our old issues in PvP. The only way Retribution kills healers these days is because of sudden burst. In Arenas, this doesn't work as well because there's coordinated mitigation and healing. Reducing Retribution DPS brings damage output to manageable levels but will bring kitability and spell interruption back into question. Hand of Freedom hasn't been un-nerfed ever since the kneejerk reaction from Season 1. I don't care what Blizzard says about this one. The nerf to Blessing of Freedom was as kneejerk as they come, with Paladin representation in Arenas declining sharply in the following three Seasons.

Paladins still don't have a reliable interrupt on an acceptable cooldown. With damage scaled back down, Paladins will again be unable to kill healers just like in The Burning Crusade. While I don't believe that the ability to instagib healers was the solution, nerfing Retribution damage only reveals that Blizzard still hasn't addressed core issues of the class or spec. We're extremely kitable and without any offensive dispels, we have problems with spell interrupts. The best solution is to take 18 points in Protection for Improved Hammer of Justice and the 4-piece bonus from PvP sets. And that's just a band-aid.

Judgements of the Wise was nerfed to a 15% return of base mana from 33%. The good news is, Judgements cost only 5% of base mana. This means that Retribution Paladins will run out of mana at some point, but judicious (pardon the pun) use of Judgements will allow us to stretch our resources. In PvE, this will work out just fine, combined with Replenishment and the occasional potion. In PvP, it becomes a problem against drain mechanics -- another key weakness of the spec that will rear its ugly head once more. We'll see. I have to see it at work in Arenas (where it used to be a problem) before I can actually say whether or not this breaks the talent for PvP.

The only change I really like is the change to Righteous Vengeance, which will apply periodic damage with every Judgement or Divine Storm crit instead of bigger damage up front. The effective DPS is the same, just no longer as bursty. I like it because we get a DoT without being forced to use Seal of Vengance / Corruption. This will be more useful to us in PvP than the burst.

Bust up burst, but address the rest
I actually support Blizzard in their effort to scale down the class. I don't believe it's some conspiracy theory to make Retadins the laughing stocks of the game once again. At this point, I just want the issues that have always plagued the spec -- particularly in PvP, which Blizzard seems to want to fix -- eventually addressed, as well. With no healing debuff or spell interrupt, a Druid's HoT ticking for crazy amounts will render Retribution DPS negligible.

We'll still be kited to hell, with no means to close the gap like an Intercept or Sprint. We're the one melee class without a real snare, and we're the ones with no ranged abilities. Toughness and Pursuit of Justice are not the solutions, either. In Wrath of the Lich King, Death Knights will be pulling things left and right while we will be panting across the Arena floor trying to catch up with our targets. It happened in Arenas during The Burning Crusade, and it'll happen again in Wrath.

Lastly, I wish Blizzard would take a look at Holy DPS. If they're wondering why everybody and his uncle is now a Retribution Paladin, it isn't because players hate healing. It's because Holy is extremely unsatisfying to play offensively. With the nerf to Seals across the board, this frustration will grow even further. Protection Paladins are delirious with their damage now, it shouldn't be a surprise to them that Holy Paladins sometimes want to kill things, too.

Overall, I'm happy with the class. I think Blizzard's done a great job listening to the community so far. Obviously, there's just some more work that needs to be done. As terrible as these nerfs may sound, I don't think these were done without deliberation. If the nerfs actually make it live, we'll all just have to grin and bear it, and always keep our fingers crossed.

Zach has Faith that the Paladin class will be fixed in The Light and How to Swing It, where he talks about bracing for change in the coming months. This includes how to deal with the inevitable Patch 3.0, as well as what he feels are the issues with the Holy tree. He looks on the bright side of things, too, as he thinks that Patch 3.0.2 is the Paladin's time to shine.

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