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The Light and How to Swing It: Beta's delicate balancing act

Matt Walsh

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Protection specialist Matt Walsh spends most of his time receiving concussions for the benefit of 24 other people, obsessing over his hair (a blood elf racial!), and maintaining the tankadin-focused blog Righteous Defense.

Ah, beta -- a time for people to begin jostling and shouting for their favorite specs and classes to receive buffs and improvements, for deficiencies both real and imagined. While the warriors are most assuredly off demanding a free sandwich or whatever slight they're currently obsessed with, let's talk about our biggest concerns going into the next expansion.

Most of these concerns, you can imagine, deal with our balance relative to the other tanks, as well as how some of our mechanics will scale as the expansion continues. And let's not forget that Mists will mark the introduction of active mitigation, and thus it is exceedingly critical for Blizzard to get that right.

Suffice it to say, there's a lot on the line for prot paladins during this beta.

ShoRing up our shield slam

The beta update this week marks another iteration for Shield of the Righteous. This new version is a result of some specific complaints that Ghostcrawler (Lead Systems Designer Greg Street) seems to have been receiving from those in the beta, concerned that ShoR didn't have enough oomph in terms of survivability.

In a blue post on the April 7, Ghostcrawler responded to some tanking concerns that a forum-goer brought up and admitted that "We erred on the side of making [active mitigation abilities like ShoR] forgiving so that tanks wouldn't worry about splatting if they failed to use one of those attacks, but we think now we were too conservative, to the point that they don't feel (to use a word many posters have used) visceral."

Thus, in the latest iteration, Shield of the Righteous will now block 75% of the damage on that first guaranteed block and then 50% for any blocks over the next 6 seconds.

The new iteration will definitely have a very noticeable effect on survivability when popped. The question now, however, is does that make Shield of the Righteous too powerful with regard to the rest of our holy power finishers? Is the scale tipped too far in one direction?

A bigger Word

For example, consider Word of Glory. What I'm hearing is that WoG is routinely hitting for 30k, with crits going up to 60k. That's awesome, but if you can hit Shield of the Righteous and immediately block 75% of a boss' melee attack -- and considering the likelihood that bosses will melee for more than 40k damage -- why would you ever choose Word of Glory over Shield of the Righteous as a routine holy power dump?

That's not to say that a strong Shield of the Righteous completely invalidates Word of Glory as an option. In Cataclysm, it was always the smarter move to treat WoG as a cooldown, popping it when near death, thanks to its longer cooldown time. That seems to be the way the ability is headed moving into Mists as well.

Considering we also no longer have the overheal bubble, there doesn't seem to be much to recommend using Word of Glory at any point other than when you're being beckoned to walk into the light, is there?

Word of Glory is probably due for a buff of its own, not just to help it compete with an ascendant Shield of the Righteous (which is shaping up to be an issue) but also to properly and effectively fill the niche of a holy power finisher that will help negate a burst of magic damage.

Cooling it on raid cooldowns

The raid cooldowns arms race continues apace, with the latest chapter being an interesting inverse of how the war first began. In Wrath, prot paladins were given the Divine Sacrifice/Divine Guardian pairing that allowed us to reduce damage taken by the raid by 20%. When this first occurred, it was blatantly unbalanced for a single tank to have such a powerful ability. Many were concerned (and rightfully so) that it would lead to paladin tanks' being preferred over others for harder raids purely for their ability to bring that cooldown.

Fast-forward to today, and each tank class has some form of raid cooldown, either through their own abilities or their tier 13 four-piece bonuses. The arms race is clearly out of control. Everybody has nukes now! And, of course, raid damage was necessarily increased to compensate. The only logical counter is to take a step back, which Blizzard is sort of doing.

There obviously will be no tier 13 four-piece bonuses in Mists (aside from the earliest raiding), so that fixes one part of the problem. Moreover, Divine Guardian has gone away, and only holy paladins have some form of raid cooldown with the new Devotion Aura.

And yet prot warriors still have Rallying Cry and death knights still have Anti-Magic Zone. Monks also have a raid cooldown, Meditation, which looks ridiculous thus far. Druids, I suppose, can be said to sorta have a raid cooldown in Tranquility. ... which leaves prot paladins as the only tank without some degree of raid cooldown, regardless of how effective it may or may not be. This is a problem.

As such, once again the raid cooldowns situation is unbalanced. The only two logical solutions are to either give prot paladins a raid cooldown -- like make Devotion Aura a class ability -- or, more dramatically, remove all raid cooldowns from tanks. That might be healthier for the game, ultimately.

Our mastery is terrible

There's really not much to say here that hasn't already been said ad nauseam in the past. Our mastery, a simple boost to block chance, is awful. It's boring, it's random, and with the nerf to block in Mists, it's weak. I'm not sure what the solution is here, but I really hope that we get some new version of our mastery in the next expansion. Add a new effect onto it so that we get something more than just block chance, maybe. Anything to spice it up!

The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to take on the dark times brought by Cataclysm. Try out our four tips for upping your combat table coverage, find out how to increase threat without sacrificing survivability, and learn how to manage the latest version of Holy Shield.

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