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The Light and How to Swing It: Why retribution DPS is a-okay


Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Light and How to Swing It for holy, protection and retribution paladins. Seasoned ret paladin Dan Desmond is here to answer your questions and provide you with your biweekly dose of retribution medicine. Contact him at with any questions, concerns, or suggestions!

Towards the tail end of Ulduar and into the beginning of Trial of the Crusader, I was in a guild that had a rogue that would consistently top the DPS charts. I would run so many heroics and PuG raids to get gear, all the while practicing what could laughably be called our "rotation" in retrospect, and I would still fall short. Over time, however, I began to notice that even though I wasn't beating him, I was beating many others. Soon the time came when I was neck-and-neck with him, always biting his heels and waiting for him to allow me an opportunity to beat him, once and for all.

When I eventually did overtake him and saw my character's name on the top of Recount, the feeling was greater than any boss kill. You can't ever see a boss collapse and have the feeling that you did that all by yourself, that you were the sole reason for this victory, because it took a combination of other players, all supporting each other, to see that end result. The DPS race is totally different -- aside from healers keeping you alive (which, if you're properly aware of your surroundings and your threat, shouldn't be an issue) you shoulder the responsibility to push out as much damage as you can. Seeing yourself at the top is a much more personal victory because you can honestly say that you did that, that you pulled yourself up there and truly earned that spot. And from what I understand, this is not a unique experience.

I have talked to quite a few players who have expressed concern over some fairly recent SimulationCraft results that show retribution ranking near the bottom out of all available DPS specs. Even ignoring SimCraft, many more players have expressed concern over their damage output as they compare it to their fellow raiders, guildmates, and random DPSers in LFR. Despite this mounting evidence, I have asserted that retribution is in a nice place -- not great, not OP, but comfortable. Indeed, Ghostcrawler tends to feel the same way. So what's the story here? Why does it seem like everyone and their uncle think ret is doing poorly?

Why does retribution sim poorly?

SimulationCraft is a great tool, and its developers should be very proud of the work they do. They make theorycrafting more accessible to a larger group of people by turning equations and calculations into a graphical interface that is fairly simple to operate. But every system has its limitations, and SimCraft is no different. When you plug in your character data and run a simulation, the program adheres to a set of predetermined conditions. In the case of their popular DPS comparisons, SimCraft uses the following:

Fight length: 360 – 540 seconds
Fight style: Patchwerk (tank-and-spank)
Iterations: 2500
Talents and glyphs (for retribution): 221223 with Templar's Verdict, Double Jeopardy, and Mass Exorcism

Basically what this all means is that the program runs through a calculated "optimal" rotation on a single-target, tank-and-spank encounter that's, on average, seven and a half minutes long. It does this 2,500 times and then averages the results to give us our final number.
The Light and How to Swing It Why retribution DPS is aokay
So what's wrong with this?

First of all, how many Patchwerk-style fights are there this tier? The only encounter that I could say is even remotely like Patchwerk is Garajal, provided you either don't go down to the spirit realm at all or you spend the briefest of moments down there. You might be able to get away with doing nothing else on this encounter but DPS, but that doesn't change the fact that only one out of sixteen encounters reflects these conditions, which actually brings me to my next point.

A Patchwerk-style encounter is not a realistic situation in today's raids. So many fights these days have adds, movement, and debuffs that standing still to attack one target is no longer the norm.

Look at a fight like Will of the Emperor – as a DPS, you're either running around killing off adds, barely even touching the boss, or you're on one of the bosses dodging Devastating Combo and putting yourself out of melee range often but spiking your damage with Opportunistic Strike.

All Simcraft's T14H results show is that retribution does not perform as well as other specs under one stringent set of pretty unrealistic conditions. This ranking definitely has some uses (namely, finding outlier specs and identifying what separates them from the pack), but you need to treat it as a small piece of a larger puzzle instead of a scoreboard at the end of the game. Clearly, our strengths lie elsewhere.

Then where are our strengths?

Adaptation Aside from a few glaring omissions (* cough* untargeted, holy power-independent AoE), our damage loadout is very versatile:
  • Suddenly have multiple mobs to fight? Thanks to Hammer of the Righteous, Divine Storm, a fast-stacking Censure and a fairly worthless Seal of Righteousness, switching to AoE damage is a snap.
  • Need to close the gap? A robust tier of movement talents keep us very mobile, out of bad and in melee range.
  • Stuck at ranged for the moment? Hard-hitting ranged abilities like Judgment, Exorcism, and Hammer of Wrath let us continue to do damage and gain holy power for those times when the boss is just out of reach.
Burst potential For a long time now, one of retribution's greatest strengths (at least, DPS-wise) has also been the source of its greatest weakness – burst damage. Being able to hit Guardian of Ancient Kings, Avenging Wrath, Holy Avenger, and Execution Sentence together while Inquisition is running gives you an 18 second window of pure destruction. Of course there's a PvP tradeoff involved, the source of the saltiest nerfs in the quadrant, but don't be fooled -- being able to deliver massive damage in a small window can be very valuable.

Self-preservation Keeping yourself alive ensures that you can deal more damage in the long run, so our defensive toolbox works offensively when used sparingly and intelligently.
  • The paladin's signature ability, Divine Shield, has snagged countless first kills and saved a multitude of lives.
  • Off-healing with Word of Glory and/or Selfless Healer can keep you alive while healers are distracted or dead (especially on a fight like Chimaeron where a solitary self-heal can make the difference between life and death).
  • Even better, shielding yourself with Divine Protection and Sacred Shield can prevent a lot of that damage in the first place.
Overall, I'd say to not let a few numbers get you down. Any raid leader worth their salt wouldn't turn down a good ret paladin, what with all the utility we have to offer. Don't get me wrong, I'd like retribution to do better on single-target than what's reflected in the SimCraft results, but I think we're going to be just fine. I mean, at least we're not arms warriors!

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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