The three talent trees available to paladins are holy, protection, and retribution. Holy is devoted to healing others, protection is concentrates on staying alive longer, and retribution is focuses on doing damage. Being as this is the guide on low level tanking, we're going to primarily be looking at things in the protection tree.
Some people will tell you that you must have this one talent build or you'll be horrible and die. While there are some must have talents out there, you can also setup things in a couple different ways. The most important thing is that you know your talent tree and the talents you have available to you. Play around with one of those online talent calculators for a while until you find a setup you like. Actually, with the feature in the game to preview talent changes turned on, you can even do that while taking a break one afternoon.
However, always be sure to try and know your class as much as possible before going out and seeing what other people say is the best way to do things. I'd rather have a knowledgeable player in my group than some guy that read somewhere that this talent build makes him uber. All it takes is one hotfix for that guy to suddenly have a very un-uber talent build and not know what to do until someone comes up with the next greatest talent build.
Generally, as a tank you're going to want to make a bee-line up the center of the protection tree. This is mainly to grab Blessing of Sanctuary at level 30 and Holy Shield at level 40. These are rather key skills in the protection paladin arsenal and it's rather hard to tank without nabbing them. The other big skill talents you'll aim for are Avenger's Shield at 50 and Hammer of the Righteous at level 60.
These aren't all the skills in the tree, because I didn't mention Divine Sacrifice. You can run dungeons happily without Divine Sacrifice, because it's more of a raiding talent. Yes, there are places where it would be nice to use, but all in all it's designed more for raids. However, I recently did a whole article on Divine Sacrifice if you want more information about it.
As for other talents, you'll want to have some utility as well as survivability. Divine Strength is a good place to start out the tree for a little easier time while killing things while soloing and for threat while tanking. Anticipation and Toughness are nice as they boost dodge and your armor which will let you live a bit longer. Combat Expertise adds a stat called Expertise that helps reduce the amount your target can dodge and parry your attacks. The talent also adds a decent amount of stamina as well as some extra critical strike rating for threat.
There are also some obscure talents in the tree that might be confusing for a new paladin. Kind of like Reckoning, Redoubt, or Spiritual Attunement.
Reckoning lets you occasionally get another quick hit in on whatever you're attacking. This is a nice soloing skill and also can help out your threat in dungeons. It's one of those talents that is really nice while leveling, but not one of those end game talents you see a lot of 80s recommending for raids. Being as this is for the leveling paladin, we're going to recommend it.
Redoubt is a fun one. It's essentially a second Holy Shield that randomly pops up adding up to 30% block for a short period of time. The talent also increases your block value by 10% per point you put in it taking you up a maximum of 30% extra block value.
Spiritual Attunement is a peculiar one. It restores some of your mana for every heal you receive. It used to be something that all paladins learned from trainers, but then there started to be issues with how it worked in higher end raids with holy and retribution paladins. After that, they removed it as a baseline ability and tossed it into the protection tree. If you're absolutely fine on mana, then don't worry about this talent. If you've got some mana issues, then grab at least one point. If you're still having mana problems, then grab that second point.
Ardent Defender is made of win covered in awesome sauce. When you've got the full three of three points in it, every time you fall below 35% health, all incoming damage is reduced by 20%. This gives your healers some breathing room by reducing some of that incoming damage so they can get caught up.
Also, if you do happen to take a killing blow with Ardent Defender talented, you will be healed up to 30% of your maximum health once every two minutes and depending on your defense skill. The more gear with defense rating on it, the larger the heal will be. So, how this works is much like Forbearance. If Ardent Defender saves you from death by healing you, you'll get a debuff called Ardent Defender for two minutes. During that two minutes, Ardent Defender won't save you from death again. However, once that debuff is gone, you're vaguely immortal again. Oh, and from personal experience... falling damage doesn't make it turn on.
Touched by the Light is a funny talent. Paladin is a mana and spell power using class, but neither retribution nor protection paladins wear spell power gear. That's why each of those two trees were given special talents to convert stats they do use into spell power. This adds threat, because our spells scale off of both attack power and spell power. But not only that, a skill we get later in the game, Sacred Shield, scales off of spell power as well.
Guarded by the Light is useful for a couple different reasons. First off, it reduces incoming spell damage which is one place we need as much help as we can get. Secondly, it refreshes a spell we get at level 71 called Divine Plea which helps us recover mana much easier. Third, it helps prevent Divine Plea from being dispelled. With this talent, we can keep Divine Plea up 100% of the time if we keep pulling monsters fast enough. Being that Divine Plea gives us 25% of our total mana back every 15 seconds, this is a massive boost to our available mana.
Non-Protection Tree Talents:
Not all of the good tanking talents are in the protection tree. There are some useful ones scattered across the other trees. Retribution has a lot of good threat talents if you go deep enough as well as couple useful debuffs. Holy actually has a decent threat talent within easy reach. You'll probably want to talent these after you've already taken Holy Shield in the protection tree and might even wait longer depending on your plans. Let's look at a couple of the major ones.
Deflection over in the retribution tree is the parry version of Anticipation. With full points, it adds a flat 5% to your parry percentage. This definitely goes on your talent grocery list of things to pick up.
Improved Judgements as a tier 2 talent in retribution is always worth at least one talent point. Since you've already gone 5 points into the tree for Deflection, it's not difficult talent to grab. This lowers the cooldown of judgement by one second per point (with a maximum of two points).
Seals of the Pure adds bonus damage to your Seal of Righteousness and your Seal of Corruption/Vengeance and their judgements. The strange part is that this is from the holy tree which isn't usually know for its extra damage dealing. However, it's up at the top of the tree and you can grab it without putting anything else into the tree.
There are a lot more talents I didn't cover, but most of those are fairly self-explanatory or deep enough in other trees that you don't need to worry about them. Remember, be sure to read through your talent tree and make informed decisions when picking what talent spec best matches your play style. If that talent spec doesn't work out, you can always respec. Check back next week when we get into those skills you'll want to use and keep on your action bars somewhere.
The Light and How to Swing It tries to help Paladins cope with the dark times coming in Cataclysm. See the upcoming Paladin changes the expansion will bring. With Wrath coming to a close and the final showdown with the Lich King is now here. Are you ready for the assault on Icecrown Citadel?