OK, there's an elephant in the room already. If you're like me, you're probably wearing some mail armor right now. I'm wearing two pieces, in fact, and I have no plans to replace them until the next tier of gear is released. Due to the fact that only holy paladins use plate gear, there is really a limited selection of holy plate gear available to minimize overcrowding of loot tables. There are certain slots where there is really no good plate gear available, and using mail is the better option. Right now, the only drawback is the loss of a bit of armor, which is easily worth the cost. In addition, mail gear tends to be cheaper to craft, which has had me crafting mail gear instead of plate whenever possible. I'm a good paladin and I let our restoration shaman soak up any mail he wants first, but after that it's mine.
Mastery guides players towards their armor class
Based on Lead Systems Designer Ghostcrawler's comments on the stat and system changes thread, Blizzard will be designing mastery such that it is boosted when you are wearing the proper class of armor. While it may still be better for us to snag a piece of mail and sacrifice this bonus instead of wearing a really terrible piece of plate, Blizzard's goal is to have paladins healing in plate. I'll be honest, there are a few pieces of cloth gear that I've even looked at picking up, and this change may have me sticking with plate over any other class of armor.
It's a great idea in theory: have classes using the gear designed for them. It stops the issue of plate classes rolling on leather gear because the stat mix happens to be superior, and makes balancing caps easier for the itemization team. However, it also adds additional stress to item design. By forcing us to make a sacrifice to pick up mail gear, Blizzard is essentially promising that they'll make plate gear that we'll want to wear. If you've been playing a holy paladin for any length of time in Wrath, you're laughing right now. We've been putting up with crit/MP5 plate gear since Naxxramas, and mail gear has been our only respite from the itemization team's failures.
We know what we want
Holy paladin stat priorities are not a guessing game. We don't need a complex spreadsheet like a rogue or mage, and we certainly don't need to pull out our calculator to compare gear. Intellect is our primary stat, haste is the best add-on stat, and we prefer mana per five over critical strike rating in nearly every situation. If every piece of gear I wore was haste/MP5, I would be a very happy healer. These stats are so powerful for us that Lockjaw from 10-man ICC is better than the 25-man equivalent, Trauma. And it's not just haste/MP5; haste/crit is pretty awesome for us as well. We're all shooting for at least a few haste/crit pieces, specifically the helm and shoulders of our tier 10 set and even Gauntlets of Overexposure. Any piece of gear with haste on it is relatively good for us really, so how can Blizzard get that wrong?
I'm not sure if it's due to underestimating the massive amount of mana regeneration that holy paladins are capable via intellect or simple negligence, but there are simply too many pieces of gear with a stat mix of crit/MP5. We don't need double regeneration stats, and we certainly don't want gear without haste. Even now, as the haste soft cap is easily within reach, haste is still our best throughput and reactivity stat. We'll want it even more in Cataclysm, when our meager starting gear has us nowhere near the soft cap. While Cataclysm will replace MP5 with spirit, the message remains the same: we're going to want whatever stat mix provides us with the optimum healing output.
Min-maxing is what's at stake
Nobody wants spellpower plate clogging up loot tables when only one spec of one class can use it. I grit my teeth when another pair of Bracers of Pale Illumination drop. However, that pales (no pun intended) in comparison to when Festergut's Gaseous Gloves drop, and I don't even have to ask if anyone wants them. They're terrible, there are easily obtainable gloves that absolutely destroy them, and they take up a loot slot that could've been valuable gear. If Blizzard really plans to penalize paladins for wearing plate, then they're going to have to cut out the trash plate drops and get to work making plate that we want to wear for every slot.
The problem is that if Blizzard only creates great holy plate gear, where does our ability to min-max go? I'll admit to using a non-ideal piece of gear while waiting for an upgrade to come along, but if Blizzard cuts down loot tables to only the essential pieces of plate, it will be that one piece, or nothing. In addition, it would remove our ability to specifically stack stats for a particular fight or playstyle, limiting our flexibility. Where's the solution? How can Blizzard keep enough holy paladin gear on itemization tables to let us choose, ensure that there is an ideal holy piece for every slot for every preference, and keep the amount of spellpower plate on bosses to a minimum to prevent loot congestion? Right now, the availability of mail gear to holy paladins is what satisfies these conditions, but if that option is removed, we're left between a rock and a hard place.
I'm not sure how Ghostcrawler and company will tackle the delicate issue of armor class balancing in Cataclysm. Reforging will almost certainly be part of the solution, and perhaps allowing holy paladins to reforge their gear more efficiently or more freely will be the solution. I've always liked the Sunwell system of trading drops to a vendor for different items, though having this implemented for one spec of one class is probably out of the question. Or, Blizzard could say that holy paladins retain their mastery bonuses when using plate or mail but not leather or cloth gear. Whatever their decision ends up being, I am certain that one thing will never change: We'll always be wearing a dress.
The Light and How to Swing It (Holy Edition) is dedicated to helping holy paladins become the powerful healers that we're destined to be. If you're new to the paladin's healing ways, you can learn the ropes with our Holy 101 article. We also have information on how to keep a tank alive, how to heal a raid when necessary and how to beat the GCD. Tanking is a job, DPS is a craft -- but healing is truly an art.