Bubbles and Crits: Paladins from 3.0 to 3.2

This is a guest post by jeffo, a Paladin blogger from Looking For More.

Before there is Cataclysm there was a cataclysm – a massive overhaul to WoW that patch 3.0.2 brought to the game. From this Holy Paladin’s perspective, these changes were more than welcome and, once I got used to 40-yard judgments, a spell that would let me heal two(!) targets at once and a greatly streamlined judgment system, I was in good shape. The road to level 80 also brought us a shield and a new mechanism for regenerating a lot of mana over a short period of time. The revisions to all three Paladin trees made many Holy Paladins rethink where their non-Holy points should be invested.

Prior to 3.0.2 most Holydins would go into Protection tree, primarily with the aim of picking up Blessing of Kings. With Wrath out most Holy Paladins decided to dig instead into the Retribution tree, picking up talents that increased spell crit by 8%. Although Kings remained in the same location in the Protection tree, the shuffling of talents around it made this build pale in comparison to a Holy/Ret spec. The crit talents took advantage of one of our key talents, Illumination, and enabled Holydins to stack Intellect, load up on crit gear, and Holy Light-spam our way through Naxxramas into Ulduar. Even as we watched a shameful moment in paladin history (Arthas disbanding the Silver Hand and sending Uther home in disgrace in Old Stratholme), healing Paladins seemed to be entering into a Golden Age, topping meters and putting out prodigious amounts of healing while our fellow healers were running dry.

Storm clouds appeared on the horizon in May when Ghostcrawler dropped the first hint that Blizzard was looking at nerfing Illumination. This touched off a vigorous debate on Plusheal.com (as opposed to the O-Boards, where it spawned much QQ from Paladins, and much ‘lol, nerf pallies, QQ moar’ from everyone else) about what this would mean if the change went through, though many seemed to believe that it wouldn’t.

It did.

On June 18, the news was announced, and it was even worse than we had imagined: Not only did the mana return from Illumination get cut in half, one of our key talents, Divine Intellect, was also getting cut by 5% at max level. Combined with an across-the-board nerf to Replenishment, it appeared that Holy Paladins were getting nerfed ‘to the ground, baby’ (sorry, can’t resist borrowing that quote from our favorite crab). Anguish and anger ruled the day on the O-Boards. We were going to be crippled, we were going to be benched. Never mind the huge buff to Beacon of Light (and it is huge), never mind the Flash of Light over Time effect on Sacred Shielded targets: Rerolls were incoming, subscriptions were being canceled. The Golden Age of the Paladin was over.

Or was it?

April’s Patch 3.1 introduced some new wrinkles that may well have been designed to lure healers out of the Ret tree: Divinity and Divine Sacrifice. With the nerfs incoming in patch 3.2, a number of Paladins began eyeballing and experimenting with Holy/Protection as an alternative. Siha at Banana Shoulders predicted on July 21st that a Holy/Prot spec would become the favored spec while other Paladin deeper in Ulduar than I were looking at this spec as a way to mitigate some of the high raid-wide damage seen in fights like Mimiron. Sadly, despite the theorycrafting that was going on, few people who were actually IN the PTR were posting their experiences with any real numbers. Instead, we got a mix of ‘it’s not too bad’ and ‘it sucks, I’m re-rolling’, so we were left to wait, wonder and speculate. Much of the speculation focused on whether or not the sky would fall when the patch went live.

Patch Goes Live, Sky Does Not Fall!

Just before the patch hit I dropped my 1000 gold on dual-spec training and created…a second healing spec. I went with a 51/20/0 ‘Bubble spec’, figuring there was no getting around the nerfs and that I was going to have to get used to it. A funny thing happened to me: I’ve been using the bubble spec almost exclusively ever since. A one-minute Sacred Shield is nice, and Divine Sacrifice is a very strong talent (provided I don’t inadvertently kill myself with it). I do miss not seeing quite as many BIG, GREEN NUMBERS as I used to, but with raid buffs I’m still typically critting well over thirty percent of the time, and have hit 40+% on some fights.

But what about the mana? Prior to 3.2 in my Crit spec, I was getting around 40% of my total mana regeneration from Illumination; Replenishment was a distant second at ~30%. Both were getting cut drastically in the patch, and switching to a Bubble spec would make my crit drop by another 8% or so – would I be able to heal, or would I find myself starved for mana?

In short, my mana is fine! Despite the fact that in bubble spec Illumination now only makes up 15-17% mana return, and Replenishment returns now seem to fall in the 25% range, I have had virtually no issues with mana to date. Even on fights where I find myself having to bomb Holy Lights, I’m not the healer that calls ‘Out of mana’ over vent – that doesn’t happen for me unless something’s gone very, very wrong in our raid. How can this be? I believe it’s due to a combination of the following:

  1. High crit rate: Despite the loss of 8% crit through my respec and the 50% Illumination nerf, I’m still regaining plenty of mana through crits. Unbuffed I stand at 27% Holy crit; with full raid buffs, I’m still typically critting on 40% of my heals.
  2. Guardian, Sacrifice and Shield: With 2 points in Divine Guardian, Sacred Shield lasts one minute (as opposed to 30 seconds untalented), and absorbs 20% more damage per hit. Divine Sacrifice can eat up a pretty high amount of damage every two minutes. Fewer shield refreshes, more damage absorbed = mana savings.
  3. Play Style: Three big things in this category: First, I’ve become better about finding safe spots in fights to use Divine Plea; second, I’m getting back into the habit of using Divine Illumination whenever I can (I used to use it pretty much every cooldown, but got out of the habit since the expansion, simply because I didn’t need it); third, where I’ve traditionally done my healing from 40 yards away, I will now be found a little more often around the bosses’ feet. A single swing with Seal of Wisdom active can get you enough mana for your next Holy Light, depending on the size of your mana pool.

Based on my experience, Bubbledins seem to be faring pretty well so far: we can still put out very large numbers and our mana seems to hold up well over long, healing intensive fights. I think that it actually makes us a more well-rounded healer than we were heading into the patch. But what about the holdouts? The nerfs seemed to be aimed pretty squarely at Int-stacking, Crit-bombing, Holy retadins, and there’s still a lot of them out there. For my next act (Matt willing) I will take a look at some numbers and reports from my critting cousins. A bit more research is in order, and it may mean taking the Crit spec back out of the garage and into Ulduar again – should be fun!

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About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.