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The Light and How to Swing It: The ever-changing Holy Shield

Gregg Reece

With the Light as his strength, Gregg Reece of The Light and How to Swing It faces down the demons of the Burning Legion, the undead of the Scourge -- and soon, an entire flight of black dragons. Please send screenshots as well as any comments to

In previous posts, I've talked a bit about holy power. Usually, this was in relation to our retribution and holy brothers and sisters. The main reason behind that is ... well ... protection just didn't fit well with the system yet. Sure, Blizzard has tried a couple of different things, but to be honest, it has felt kludgy and unpolished.

The main reason behind this rough feeling in protection has been Holy Shield. You see, Blizzard hasn't quite decided what it is going to do with the ability yet, so we're kind of stuck. Each patch has a wild redesign to help things fit better into the current mold the developers have for the class, but it just hasn't fallen into place. Some of the problems players have been having include unfamiliarity with the new holy power system, the lack of a proper UI element to keep track of it and figuring out how to manage the new ability rotations.

Let's take a look at how our faithful old companion, Holy Shield, has fared thus far in the beta.

When the beta first became public, Holy Shield looked fairly similar. It still had its 8-second cooldown with a 10-second duration, but tacked onto the talent was a passive 6 percent critical strike reduction unrelated to the skill itself. This caused a lot of confusion at first, as the talent was poorly worded and it looked like you had to have the skill up in order to be crit-immune for tanking.

Tanks were already pretty upset at this, as each tank class had to devote a different number of talent points at different levels to obtain crit immunity. It wasn't consistent and really needed adjusted. However, we paladins were the easiest to get crit-immune, as it only took one talent point; if this had gone live, we would have yet again been the persona non grata amongst the other tanking classes.

Then Blizzard had the idea of making Holy Shield into a tanking cooldown, as opposed to a maintained ability like it is currently. Part of this stems from the fact that protection paladins are very passive in how they tank in Wrath, and Blizzard wanted to make us more closely resemble the other tanks that had a bit more control over their survival. Holy Shield was going to be on a 30-second or 1-minute cooldown and presumably bump block chance up significantly.

We are going to turn both Holy Shield and Shield Block into short cooldowns. A short cooldown is an ability that you don't save for an absolute emergency (like Shield Wall) but we also don't want it to be on such a short cooldown that it feels maintenance-y. It's a tricky number to get right, but something in the 30 sec to 1 min zone feels about right. Then you might use Holy Shield one GCD instead of SoR or you can choose to save it until the next big boss attack.

While I was interested in the idea of an additional tanking cooldown, it just didn't sit well with me. I like Holy Shield, as it has been part of what I think of hitting while tanking since I picked up the class seriously at the beginning of The Burning Crusade. Sure, this is just silly nostalgia, but it would be akin to turning Crusader Strike into a 1-minute cooldown major damage-dealing ability. It just doesn't feel right. Now, if Blizzard had removed the ability and created a new one with a new name to do this, I'd be fine with it.

Most of that got scrapped when Blizzard came out with the idea of holy power (HOLY POWAH!). One of the first blurbs we heard about holy power was in relation to Holy Shield's duration. You'd get 10 seconds free and then an additional 10 seconds per holy power spent with a 1-minute cooldown. That means at most you'd have 66 percent uptime of Holy Shield, presuming you used it on cooldown with a full stack of holy power. So, it would sort of be a tanking cooldown but would also sort of be a maintained ability. You'd probably want to hit it every time it was up unless you needed to offset it slightly to line up with a big boss ability. It ends up feeling very awkward like this.

So Blizzard decided to scrap the idea of making it into a new tanking cooldown. This moved it into the realm of a maintained ability again. The developers tried it as a flat block amount with the duration still affected by holy power spent. So, 5 seconds per holy power spent means a maximum duration of 15 seconds, and it takes you at least 12 seconds to earn enough holy power to do that. This is all fine and well, but if you're doing your rotation perfectly, you have no additional holy power for anything else. You can't boost your damage with Inquisition, because it can't be up while Holy Shield is up anyway.

After deciding the variable duration wasn't on the right track, Blizzard moved to a fixed duration but variable quality method. This meant that Holy Shield would always last for 18 seconds, but its blocking power varied based on the how holy you were at the time it was cast. In the lower-avoidance/mitigation world of Cataclysm, this meant 5 percent block chance per holy power used. So you had a little more leeway, but you were still sort of stuck. Also, the idea of combo points for mitigation didn't sit well with people. Sure, it's only 15 percent, but a tank will always feel the pressure to keep that buff up at maximum at all times. There is a small amount of leeway in this setup for things like Word of Glory, but you have to time it just right to avoid messing up your Holy Shield upkeep.

OK, now we're going to get a bit more complicated. Holy Shield now lasts 20 seconds, has 5 percent block chance per holy power and is refreshed by a redesigned Shield of the Righteous (yes, +the -ness) which also runs off of holy power. So, the idea is that you build up three holy power, hit Holy Shield, build up three holy power, and hit Shield of the Righteous. The problem you can then run into is mistiming a SotR due to internet lag, input lag or user lag and hit it just after Holy Shield expires, then you don't get it refreshed. This isn't a likely scenario, but it's still a frustrating one.

So, Ghostcrawler (lead systems designer, aka guy in charge of classes for WoW) popped up to let us know what we're going to be seeing next in the ever-evolving ability that is Holy Shield.

Here is the current design we have in our local builds. It might not appear in the next beta build, but could be the one after that. There's also a chance we will have changed it again before you get a chance to try it.

Holy Shield is a 15% block buff with a 20 sec duration. It no longer has stacks and can be overwritten to refresh its duration. It is caused by both Shield of the Righteous and Inquisition. You can Crusader Strike -> Shield of the Righteous over and over if you'd like, but the Shield of the Righteous will hit for much less without 3 stacks (it will hit softer with <3 stacks than it does today, more like TV does in the beta). Likewise, Inquisition will fall off pretty quickly without 3 stacks (with 3 stacks it lasts 12 sec for Prot and 30 sec for Ret), so there is some motivation to go for the longer buff.

The idea is that you can use Shield of the Righteous for single targets or use Inquisition to buff a larger variety of abilities when AE tanking. Furthermore, if you ever let Holy Shield drop off, you should be able to get it back up pretty quickly at full strength.

There is a chance we will allow Word of Glory to also proc Holy Shield, but we're very concerned about the right way to play becoming to just spam heals on yourself. We still don't want you to have to keep up both Inquisition and a 3 stack Shield of the Righteous at once, because we think that crosses the line into being too maintenance-y, and once you can do it, you'll feel like you have to do it.

So, Holy Shield is going to end up being a non-holy-power-scaling buff that procs off of both Inquisition and Shield of the Righteous. It will last 20 seconds, which should give you plenty of time for earning up three holy power for either of the abilities that proc it, as well as some extra time to handle both the fight and maybe hit yourself with a quick Word of Glory. Will this be what we end up with when Cataclysm goes live? Probably not. It is, however, a lot closer than we've seen thus far during the beta. Hopefully, this will take a lot of the clunkiness out of the holy power system for protection paladins, but we'll have to wait and see.

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. Wrath is coming to a close and the final showdown with the Lich King is here. With Cataclysm soon heating things up, will you be ready?

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