April 25, 2009

Holy Paladins in Ulduar

It's been over a week now since Ulduar was unleashed, and I hope that you've all gone in and had a taste of what Blizzard has emphatically called a "hard" raid. Harder than Naxxramas, at least. Aside from towerless Flame Leviathan, who was cruelly invented to trick players into thinking that Ulduar was puggable, the bosses -- heck, even the trash -- in Ulduar is a return to some good old-fashioned wipefests and headbanging against the wall. Of course, the world's top guilds were well equipped and prepared to clear all the way up to Yogg-Saron, but most guilds will struggle a bit.

Did I say a bit? Some guilds will struggle a lot, actually. While Ulduar still seems easier by far than the so-called guild killers, Blizzard has ramped up the difficultly nicely and many guilds will find it a challenge but eventually conquer it in time. So where do Paladins fit in with all this conquering business? Well, it depends on your spec. Fortunately for us, Patch 3.1 also introduced dual-specs, and if there's anything a Paladin should plunk 1,000 Gold on, it's to learn a secondary spec. Today we'll take a look at how healers fare in Ulduar two weeks in after the jump.

I was wrong. I said that raiding Holy Paladins wouldn't be feeling the pinch of the nerf intended to curb Holy Paladin dominance in Arenas, but apparently the mobility required for the Ulduar fights does make us miss those fast Holy Lights terribly. A Holy Shock crit followed by an instant Flash of Light is nice, but it won't top off anyone in pain-filled Ulduar. The limit of Sacred Shield to a single target also hurts because it always gave us a buffer in mobility fights.

With the renewed focus on single target healing, Holy Paladins are in a slight disadvantage in Ulduar, where many fights have the entire raid taking damage and mobility hampers the casting of our primary nuke heal. Between Ignis casting Flame Jets, having to move out of Razorscale's Devouring Flames, dodging Mimiron's Rocket Strike, or shaking off Hodir's Biting Cold, it's quite a challenge to do old school standing at the back of the raid launching heal bombs like there's no tomorrow.

While other healing classes thrive in this environment, such as Discipline Priests and their phenomenal Soul Warding, Paladin healers will need to step up their game somewhat. A few key ideas behind core abilities should help us with Paladins cope with mobility fights:

Sacred Shield - Although now limited to single targets, it should become second nature to throw a Sacred Shield on our primary healing assignment right before moving. If you're in the middle of casting, cancel it and throw up a Sacred Shield. A /stopcasting macro bound to the spell will make it a little easier and prevent silly "another action is in progress" error messages. If you don't have a major healing assignment, pop it on the nearest raid member with low health. Barring these, the next best target would be yourself.
Holy Shock - This is our clutch spell. Paladins used to be one-dimensional two-button healers, but much has changed since Wrath, and Holy Shock has become a core spell in our toolbox. In Ulduar, it should be cast often and early. It is an even be a better option than either Flash of Light or Holy Light in many situations, and should be bound with /stopcasting, allowing its use as an emergency heal. If you haven't already, prepare a macro that binds Holy Shock and Divine Favor to set up for a big nuke after moving. The Glyph of Holy Shock is an attractive choice -- the sooner you have access to Holy Shock, the more flexibility you'll have to position yourself.
Aura Mastery - It almost seems like Blizzard designed this talent for Ulduar. Although you can theoretically LOS Molten Colossi to avoid Earthquake, this spell comes in handy, anyway. It doesn't activate the GCD so can be cast in conjunction with a Holy Light or Divine Favor+Holy Light. You'll still be tossed up during a Flame Jet, but you won't be locked out of your other spells.

Judgements - In this case, Judgement of Wisdom, probably. You'll want to cast a Judgement enough times to keep up Judgements of the Pure. We want that 15% haste. We need it. In fact, Blizzard is practically begging us to cast Judgement, because it's one of the few spells we can throw when we're on the move. In fact, you shouldn't cast it at any other time because it kills precious GCD when were stationary.
Divine Plea - Cast it on the move. Remember that you don't have to wait for the buff to run its whole course, so be ready with a '/cancelaura Divine Plea' macro that gives you the option to go for bigger heals in place of mana regeneration. Don't worry, it'll be up again in a minute and trust me, you'll have to move then, too. Removing the buff doesn't consume the GCD, so you can bind it with a healing spell if necessary.
The amount of raid damage in Ulduar is going to shock many players who've gotten comfortable in Naxxramas. Unfortunately, there's no easy fix for this. While we can adjust our playstyle to cope with mobility, the class kit is focused on single target heals, Beacon of Light notwithstanding. If you're not healing the tank, it's difficult to do preemptive heals.

What you can do, however, is cast preemptive Sacred Shields. Because Sacred Shield requires that a target take damage before it procs, preemptive casting is the only way to go. It's not like Power Word: Shield, which is cast on low-health targets before a major heal. Sacred Shield cast on a low health target means the target may well die. Although the primary recipient of this spell is usually the main tank, Paladins with the flexibility to cast it on other raid members should do so. Raid members at 50% health are great candidates, any lower than that and you should be using Holy Shock.

Holy Shock is a lynchpin spell that should be cast almost every time it's up. It is a prep spell and an emergency heal at the same time. If you crit with Holy Shock, don't be trigger happy with Flash of Light. The Infusion of LIght buff lasts 15 seconds, so you have some flexibility. You can use the time to move, cast a Holy Light nuke, or wait for Sacred Shield to proc a +50% critical effect chance.

Many raids will find Ulduar hard, with even trash pulls requiring a bit of thinking. It's a challenging raid that makes healing Paladins dig deeper into our bag of tricks. I like it, even though the two notable features of an Ulduar encounter -- mobility and raidwide damage -- are the bane of Holy Paladins. I like it because it pushes us out of our comfort zone. The good news is that we have a few tools that allow us to cope with the situation, we just need to use them.

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