The Light and How to Swing It: The ups and downs of protection's funky aggro

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 9 other people, obsessing over his hair, and maintaining the tankadin-focused blog Righteous Defense.

Granted, as far as class design goes, protection paladins are sitting fairly pretty (and not just the blood elves). Our rotation is great, our stat priorities produce a fun playstyle, our talents do what they need to. We don't have any serious holes in our stable of cooldowns, and on the whole staying alive isn't really an issue for us as long as there's a healer nearby. If you had to ask me what the biggest source of frustration with my paladin is, I would quickly reply with the inconsistencies of how aggro plays out.

That's not to say that single-target, Patchwerk-like aggro is an issue. Vengeance as-is means that tanks really aren't going to lose threat if they have a lead and they're being punched in the face. Rather, where the look and feel of the system breaks down is on the periphery, and in particular when new adds appear as the clock ticks on those crucial few seconds between spawning and gnawing of the closest healer.

Make it snappy

To put it bluntly, our snap aggro is garbage.

Now, what I mean by snap aggro is the first global cooldown or two of combat with a fresh crop of mobs where tanks duke it out for the attention of each enemy. I raid with a death knight and nine times out of ten, when we're working through trash or there's an encounter with waves of adds that we are both available to work with (Garrosh for example), after two globals he's going to have all of the adds beating on him. I just can't compete.

What do we have for establishing immediate aggro on any enemy? Avenger's Shield, of course, which is a powerhouse for three mobs. Beyond that? Um, see you in 15 seconds for another three. Hammer of the Righteous is weak, and really doesn't have much if any 'oomph' despite hitting everything around you. The other major, immediate AoE spell in our arsenal is Holy Wrath, but that's currently neutered to the point of worthlessness.

It can do decent damage on a single target, but when you add more enemies into the mix it just breaks down. As-is, the spell splits its damage evenly across all enemies within 10 yards, the equivalent of chucking a pail full of dead fish into a crowd. When you think about it, in AoE situations Holy Wrath is really best as a stun -- the damage component is garbage.

I understand why Holy Wrath is the way it is -- our AoE toolbox is fairly vast, and we have a really powerful AoE spell in the form of Consecration. Unfortunately, being an immobile DoT, Consecration really doesn't work for snap aggro. If you can keep the adds in your glowing yellow pool, fantastic; you'll have friends for the rest of their lives. But the essence of snap aggro is getting those new friends to stay in that pool, and where we stand right now is all alone in a suspicious golden puddle.

The best candidate for change seems to be Holy Wrath; we need a heavy-hitting unlimited-target AoE spell in our toolbox so when that new platoon of Bonecrushers, Shamans, and Grunts comes running down the hill on Galakras, we can immediately grab the group of them before one or two sneaks by to break every bone in Jaina's body. Holy Wrath can fit that bill.

Also I'd really like to not have to use Hand of Protection on my co-tank to "win" a trash pull.

To balance out the equation, changes can be made to tone down our other AoE spells, like Consecration. We can front-load more AoE damage in Holy Wrath and make up the difference from Consecration's back-loading. Overall, we need to bring our AoE arsenal to a state of equilibrium, as there's a bit of a hole in our output.

Preemptively ticking off the enemy

Perhaps the best thing about being a tank with heals is the healing aggro. It's been a pretty valuable tool on several fights this expansion. The heals from the old Glyph of the Battle Healer generated so much healing aggro that protection paladins could (for example) easily solo Tortos, without having to worry about picking up the bats. They spawned predetermined to swarm us! It was a pretty sweet deal, though the party rightfully ended when Blizzard redesigned the glyph.

The legacy lives on though, thanks to Eternal Flame. The healing aggro generated by the spell, especially when backed by serious quantities of Vengeance, is beastly. And it can be both a blessing and a curse.

On heroic Immerseus for example, the tank needs to pick up a swarm of adds every so often which are ever-so-helpfully generated by the attacks of the DPS. Lacking any snap aggro complicates this, but thankfully the amount of healing aggro that Eternal Flame generates is enough to spawn them at least passively interested in us. When tanking this portion of the fight, I find the adds at least move in my direction, and it doesn't take much to hold them in place, despite the aforementioned weakness in our toolbox at corralling that many enemies.

Of course, this healing aggro can also have massive downsides. On normal Garrosh I was having a hell of a time with the adds spawned by Empowered Whirling Corruption, each of which was continuously born with the burning sensation in their heart that my face was delicious. They'd pile up on me like a flock of hungry seagulls on a hotdog at the beach, and each time one was swatted down very bad things would happen.

It'd get to the point where I had to turn off Righteous Fury right before Empowered Whirling Corruption fired, and then furiously Salv myself if one even looked in my direction. It was not fun to have to work around that. (And there was no way in hell I was going to spec Sacred Shield, let's be serious now.)

I'm really not sure if I want anything done about our wonky healing aggro, outside of an ear to occasionally complain about it. More often than not, it's useful. Though when it's not useful, then it's really not useful -- which is a problem.

And so that's where prot's aggro stands ultimately. We're stuck somewhere between having too much aggro when we don't need or don't want it, and having too little when we actually do. It's a fairly annoying situation, and while we're lucky that this is perhaps one of the biggest hiccups with our tanking, it'd still be nice if it got resolved come Warlords.

The Light and How to Swing It shows paladin tanks how to combat the Sha in the strange new land of Pandaria. Try out the new control gearing strategy, learn how to make the most of the new active mitigation system on your tankadin, and check out how to deck out your fresh 90 tank to get ready for any raids!