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The Light and How to Swing It: Basic retribution cooldowns -- when to pop your wings

Durin Mundahl

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. With the Light as his strength, Durin Mundahl takes on the foes of Azeroth with all the wrath of a retribution paladin. Feel free to send your retribution questions or comments to

Hello, my Light-wielding brethren. Let me start off by saying that all of this information applies to patch 4.2 and the current state of retribution paladins. In future patches, this information may become outdated. Use your own Judgement when reading. Some side effects may include increases of a few thousand DPS on target dummies and an overall feeling of ecstasy. Working as intended.

After my last article, I got a few emails asking basic questions about retribution paladins and how to play them. I get questions like What's my rotation?, How is your damage so high?, and Why do you keep pulling aggro? pretty frequently. When I'm not trying to convince my guild it's the tank's fault I'm pulling aggro (even though it isn't), I try to explain to people that the key to doing good damage nowadays comes mainly from cooldown management, much like a lot of other classes -- but I'm not writing about mages or warriors here.

Our important cooldowns

We have three main cooldowns that you need to learn to love. They are the backbone of every good ret paladin's play, and mastering them will lead you on the path to glory.

  1. Avenging Wrath
  2. Zealotry
  3. Guardian of Ancient Kings
Avenging Wrath increases all of your damage and healing by 20% when active for 20 seconds and is on a 2-minute cooldown. As a ret paladin in a PVE situation, knowing when to pop your wings is what defines you and what will ultimately make you competitive in DPS. When specced into Sanctified Wrath in the retribution tree, it allows us to use Hammer of Wrath whenever we want, as long as Avenging Wrath is active. This is our most important cooldown, combined with ...

... Zealotry. Whenever this bad boy is activated, it allows our Crusader Strike to grant us 3 holy power instead of just one for 20 seconds; this is also on a 2-minute cooldown. As of right now, it is most beneficial to use Avenging Wrath and Zealotry at the same time; this can obviously change in future patches.

If you're anything like myself, you already have your bars filled up with all kinds of spells and abilities, and you could probably use some bar space. Here are some macros that let you activate these cooldowns at the same time so that they won't be out of sync during a boss fight. Remember to use these only when you have 3 holy power.
#showtooltip Avenging Wrath
/cast Zealotry
/cast Avenging Wrath

#showtooltip Templar's Verdict
/cast Zealotry
/cast Avenging Wrath
/cast Templar's Verdict
The second macro combines your cooldowns with Templar's Verdict if you're lazy like myself and don't want to hit more than one key, but be warned that there are situations where you won't want to pop all of your cooldowns and still use Templar's Verdict, such as on trash or an add during a boss encounter. I have this macro and Templar's Verdict on different keys (V for the macro and E for a regular Templar's Verdict without cooldowns).

Last but certainly not least is Guardian of Ancient Kings. If you thought managing holy power and keeping track of your cooldown timer wasn't enough, this spell has a trick to it, too. It is on a 5-minute cooldown, making it our longest cooldown. While this spell is active, it will summon a Guardian that will attack your current target and give you a stacking buff every time you and your Guardian attack while it is active. This buff stacks up to 20 times, increasing your strength by 1% per application for a total of 20% of your strength. It lasts for 30 seconds.

The trick to using this cooldown effectively is timing. Remember how Avenging Wrath and Zealotry both have 20-second durations? Guardian is 10 seconds longer, so you want to try and time your Guardian around 10 seconds before you use Avenging Wrath and Zealotry for the maximum benefit. Sometimes you can't do this because of Divine Purpose procs -- so don't be too bummed when you end up popping all three cooldowns at the same time -- but you want to aim for using it first and letting the stacks build up before using Avenging Wrath and Zealotry.

Useful addons

Keeping track of all of your cooldowns can be pretty hectic. Luckily, there are a few addons that can help make sense of it all. I'm going to keep this list short, because there are a few addons that I feel do the job all too well.
  • Holy Trinity This is my personal favorite; it's in the screenshot above. Not only does it track all of your important cooldowns, but it gives you a slick holy power bar and gets rid of the hideous default Blizzard one. I've been using it since late last year and haven't looked back. I couldn't find this addon on, but you can get it from Wowinterface. It's well worth the download, in my opinion.
  • Power Auras Classic Another amazing addon. I use it to keep track of trinket procs or Inquisition (thanks Apparatus of Khaz'goroth), but it can be tuned to keep track of everything and anything you may need.
  • CLC Ret As far as I'm concerned, if you are a ret paladin and you don't have this addon, you're gimping yourself. It can be used to track cooldowns as well as your rotation, though I personally don't recommend it when you can use other, sleeker addons that don't take up so much space on your screen.
  • OmniCC It just adds a timer to your spell and abilities -- very useful for just about everybody.
  • Omen Threat Meter An essential addon for any dps class. It lets you see how close you are to the tank in terms of threat and if you're going to pull off of them.

Popping your wings

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk some more about when to use these cooldowns. The answer is simple: You want to use them as much and as often as possible during a boss encounter. I would compare ret paladins to arcane mages in that we have a lot of burst and learning to take advantage of that will ultimately make you do more overall damage.

But why wouldn't I save these for Bloodlust/Heroism? As a ret paladin, you depend too much on your cooldowns to wait around for some pansy in a dress (or mail dress) to pop Bloodlust or Heroism to keep up with everybody else. If you don't believe me, go and hit a target dummy and see how much damage you do with just your regular rotation without any cooldowns; then compare it to how much you do with cooldowns. Your DPS even after a few minutes is going to skyrocket by thousands.

Of course, this doesn't mean ignore Bloodlust and Heroism completely. If there comes a point during a boss encounter when you know it's coming soon and it's lining up with your cooldowns, then yes, wait for it and line it up with your cooldowns -- heck, even chug a Golemblood Potion. Basically if your group isn't using Bloodlust or Heroism early on in the fight, pop your wings.

There is one exception, though: If you're pulling aggro from your tanks at the start of the fight constantly, it would be advisable to wait a couple of seconds before going all-out Wings of Justice because if you're having to stop and waste 10 seconds of your 20-second cooldowns so the tank can get aggro again, well, that's just going to hurt your overall damage. Take a glance at your Omen Threat Meter, and make sure your tank has a sizable threat lead before popping all of your cooldowns. It would be smart to keep Hand of Salvation handy, or at least on an easy-to-reach keybind.

The Light and How to Swing It teaches you the ins and outs of retribution paladins, from Ret 101 and how to gem, enchant and reforge your retadin, to essential ret pally addons.

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