For a long time, I've thought that paladins didn't work quite right using just mana. We are one of two classes in this particular, peculiar scenario, in which caster specs and melee specs are combined using the same resource system. Shaman have two caster trees and a melee tree, whereas we've got two melee trees and one caster tree. With that diversity, it's pretty hard to have a resource system as simple as mana that works correctly for all three specs. (Sure, I could include druids in this example, but Blizzard bypasses this setup by letting feral druids use energy and rage, while the casters use plain old mana.)
To remedy this situation, the developers at Blizzard decided late in the beta process to bring out a new system called holy power that all three pally specs could use. It's essentially a targetless combo point system that only affects a handful of abilities. The key part of this concept is that this particular handful of abilities includes most of your key abilities. You can't just ignore them and pretend they aren't there.
Holy power has two parts: holy power generators and holy power releases. (I'd use the term "finisher" to bring it more in line with rogue functionality, but finisher really isn't the right term.) You'll be spending most of your time earning holy power and then hitting your release when you've earned 3 holy power. It sounds complicated, but it's not. These are abilities you'll want to be using, anyway.
Protection paladins have two different holy power generators that share the same cooldown. The first one is Crusader Strike (CS), which is now baseline for the class. It does a lot of damage to a single opponent. You also have Hammer of the Righteous (HotR), which does less damage but can hit multiple opponents like it does now. The reason for having two abilities comes down to mixing up your rotation according to what you're fighting. If you only have one target, you'll hit CS, as it does more damage to that single target. If you're fighting multiple bad guys, you'll want to press HotR, as it hits multiple opponents. The numbers are still being tweaked, but for one to three targets, you'll use CS, and for four or more, you'll use HotR for the best threat.
OK, you've earned some holy power, but now you've got to do something with it. You have a maximum of 3 holy power that you can earn at a time, and each ability that uses it does something different with it. Most of the time, you'll be using Shield of the Righteous (SotR -- and yes, the devs added the word "the" and removed the "ness" from the end) as a holy power release. Its damage scales based on how many points of holy power you had stored up, becoming more efficient with each additional point. You've also got an instant heal called Word of Glory (WoG) that returns a flat amount for each holy power you've earned up. Once the expansion comes out, you'll have one additional release called Inquisition that gives you a 30 percent holy damage buff for a flat amount of time per holy power.
What holy power means for tanking
Without certain talents to modify things, holy power wouldn't mean much other than showing how much threat you produced. But we all know things are never that simple.
One of our most important abilities to keep up is Holy Shield. The problem is that there isn't much room in the rotation for it anymore, with everything you need to do with holy power. The solution? Remove the button. Oh, it's still there, but it now tags along on a couple other abilities -- namely, Inquisition and Shield of the Righteous. Whenever you press either SotR or Inquisition (no matter how much holy power you have earned up, as long as that number is at least 1), it will kick on the Holy Shield buff for 20 seconds at its full strength.
The plate-clad shoe has dropped. You need to manage your holy power properly so that you keep Holy Shield up and active. Now, this is actually a fairly forgiving setup, as the minimum holy power needed to put Holy Shield at full is just one. Uno. Ein. Une. Yksi. This is probably how you'll start each fight: Hit CS and then SotR to get Holy Shield rolling before getting into a real rotation. Hitting any of your holy power releases at 1 holy power will almost never be optimal, but getting Holy Shield up is an exception.
We did have that other holy power release called Word of Glory earlier, and if you'll notice, I didn't mention it when I was talking about Holy Shield. That's because its use is going to end up being more for magic-related fights than ones where things are beating on you. Guarded by the Light has been repurposed to both buff the healing done by this ability as well as let any overhealing create an absorption bubble for a couple seconds, so as not to be wasted.
What else has changed
Some changes have hurt. Ardent Defender, the awesomesauce talent that it was, is gone. It still exists, but in a slightly revamped form. Instead of being a passive talent, it is now an actual ability that you have to click, with a 3-minute cooldown. It gives you the same 20 percent damage reduction that Divine Protection gives (yes, all Shield Wall-type abilities were nerfed to line up with the much, much higher level 85 health), but it has the ability to save you from death during the 10 seconds it is up.
Blessing of Sanctuary has been reduced to a talented passive buff simply called Sanctuary that makes you immune from melee critical strikes (from monsters, not players). It still has its mana regeneration component and damage reduction, but the strength and stamina bonuses are gone.
You really won't have much reason to worry about Divine Plea as much as you do now. This is good, as its mana regen got nerfed down to 10 percent, and we wouldn't want to rely on that. We now recover 25 percent of our mana over 10 seconds with each judgement as part of the spec with Judgements of the Wise. This should actually end up being better than Divine Plea, refreshing on melee attacks in those awkward situations where trash was spread out far enough to give us fits.
Holy Wrath is now an actual rotational ability. It damages everything, but only stuns demons and undead. You can get a glyph to add dragonkin and elementals to the list of mobs it can stun, and with the number of them I foresee us facing in the expansion, that might not be a bad choice.
Blizzard has changed Avenger's Shield into something akin to the way retribution uses Exorcism. The talent Grand Crusader has a chance of resetting the cooldown on Avenger's Shield, letting you bring it out more often in fights. You can either use it to grab an additional pack of mobs or to shovel some more threat on top of ones you're already fighting. Blizzard has also removed the dazed effect from it, so it won't take forever for your pull to arrive.
Divine Sacrifice has finally gone away. In its place is Divine Guardian, which is an ability version of all of the extra stuff you liked about Divine Sacrifice to begin with. It will pop a 20 percent damage reduction wall (aka "raid wall") on everyone in your party or raid. The major bonus is that there is none of that damage redirection component that Divine Sacrifice had. The drawback is that doesn't include you in this 20 percent damage reduction. This is also out of reach for both holy and ret paladins, so if you want something done right, you'll have to do it yourself.
One ability that has changed a lot is Consecration. It isn't something that you can keep up constantly anymore. Baseline, it costs over half your mana, lasts 10 seconds and has a 30-second cooldown. You can alleviate part of these demands with the new talent Hallowed Ground, which can reduce its mana cost by 80 percent as well as buff its damage by 40 percent. Seeing as Blizzard wants us to AoE less, I don't really have a major issue with this change, and I've got Holy Wrath for quick threat anyway.
I covered some additional changes a few weeks back, about everything that got consolidated or removed, as they were plentiful enough to need a post of their own. This is only the surface of everything that has changed, and we'll be taking a deeper look as the Cataclysm draws nearer.
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