In the time of Wrath, protadins had a very rigid playstyle, and were perpetually locked into the infamous 969 rotation, in which every ability was used on cooldown because it made no sense to do otherwise. It was entirely possible to macro your entire rotation to two buttons so long as the abilities were elsewhere on your action bar for rare special occasions when prioritizing differently was a good idea, and while we made perfectly strong and serviceable tanks, it was also rather dull compared to the reactivity and fluidity of warrior tanking or the micromanagement of death knight tanking. Smart paladin players spent most of their energies on optimization and judicious use of the non-tank-specific tools in their toolbox.
This has, to put it mildly, changed. Now we have two mandatory skills in our rotation, with a choice of single-target or AoE flavor, with a choice every third cycle between AoE threat generation, single-target threat, or healing, and the class in general rewards skill and deep class knowledge even more than before. It used to be easy to be an adequate paladin tank and difficult to be a great one; I’d say now it’s as difficult to be an adequate tank as it is for any of the other classes, and somewhat easier to shine.
This is the new hotness, and the resource system around which our lives now operate. Our mana now flows like water as long as we judge regularly and we’re not fighting a mob with an annoying mana-burn mechanic, so we can largely ignore it; as DKs are governed by runes and warriors and bears by rage, this is our limiting factor.
You always want to know how much holy power you have. It’s rather annoying to rely on Blizzard’s default UI for this since your eyes are likely to be everywhere other than the top left of your screen on your character portrait, so most of us use some kind of addon for holy power. I have Power Auras, and while I have it configured to let me know when Sacred Duty procs, I don’t have it set up to display holy power stacks like a lot of others do; I use Hear Kitty for an audio cue. I already have enough stuff to watch, so being able to hear it rather than watch for it is one thing off that list.
We have two attacks that generate holy power, on a shared cooldown. Crusader Strike is it for single-target, and Hammer of the Righteous for multi-target. They’re each on a three-second cooldown, and holy power is something we want as much of as possible, so the 969 rotation has become the 3×3 rotation, with one or the other used on cooldown and other abilities threaded in between. Broadly speaking, your priority goes: 3-judge-3-holy wrath-3-avenger’s shield, with holy power dumps used every stack of three or on a stack of two if sacred duty procs and you want single-target threat, but this is rather more fluid than the old 969 and will change based on the situation. (Big pack, casters you want to shut up for a few seconds, streaming adds, etcetera.)
We have three choices to burn holy power: Shield of the Righteous, which hits like a roided-out angry bear and is your go-to for single-target threat, Inquisition, which is your best option for AoE threat, and Word of Glory, which is a free heal. Make your choice for how to burn your holy power based on the situation, but never let it sit unless you literally can’t spare the GCD.
Before I move on from the basic nuts and bolts, a brief word about Consecration: it’s now heavily situational and you will use it in exactly two situations: streaming adds you can predictably funnel to you, and a case of having nothing better to do with the GCD. It eats mana, it’s not that powerful, and anyone QQing in the tanking forums about how OP it makes paladins is officially retarded. Literally every other ability we have that hits more than one target is worth more threat and is generally more useful in an AoE situation.
We’ve got a lot more room to tailor specs than we used to, and as with our choice of holy power use, your build choices will depend heavily on what you need more of, survivability or threat. Right now, thanks to our new holy power system, “survivablity” in terms of our more flexible talent points translates to “buffing Word of Glory”.
Right now my build looks like this: 0/31/10
I’m mainly running heroics and am gearing up to raid, so right now I’m specced and glyphed pretty much entirely for survivability. Except at the beginning of boss fights where they’ve not really had time to do anything horrible to me or the party yet, I almost always hit Word of Glory rather than Shield of the Righteous or Inquisition, which makes points in Eternal Glory, Guarded By the Light, and Rule of Law valuable investments. I’ve not actually had much of an issue at all with threat, but as that changes- and it will as I, my healers, and the DPS all gear up- I’ll probably move some points out of Eternal Glory and into Seals of the Pure or Hallowed Ground. I’ll also change my prime glyphs from Insight and Word of Glory to Crusader Strike and Hammer of the Righteous or Seal of Truth.
Talents you may be tempted to skip in favor of more points in the protection tree but shouldn’t: Improved Judgment and Pursuit of Justice. With crowd control as important as it is, having a single-target ability with a long range is a godsend for pulling, as our avenger’s shield is lovely but does have that heartburn-inducing tendency to bounce in ways that aren’t completely predictable and destroy your rogue’s careful sap. (Not that I have ever been bitched out about this by the rogue across the room, let alone several times.) Likewise, there is a ton of bad to potentially be standing in out there, some of which will kill you in seconds, and having the ability to move your ass with a quickness is much more valuable than it may seem at first blink.
Pure personal preference: whether to bother with Grand Crusader. Avenger’s shield isn’t that fantastic a threat value and the proc is unpredictable, but I personally like having it available more often just because it’s useful to have at hand when there’s a caster across the room you couldn’t move at the initial pull. Others will choose to invest in Improved Hammer of Justice (with range-increasing major glyph), but they’re really just two approaches to the same category of problem.
Paladins are hybrids
Not only are we hybrids, unlike other tanking classes our abilities aren’t constrained by form or stance or any other such silliness. Any spell available to our intellect-stacking Holy cousins that isn’t talented is also available to us. You can and should be ready to use Hand of Protection, Hand of Salvation, Hand of Freedom, Hand of Sacrifice, and Lay on Hands as appropriate; another hugely helpful spell easy for tanks to forget is Holy Radiance. In a heroic? Melee taking damage? In a situation where it’s beneficial to the party to stack and lots of damage going out? In a raid when your co-tank is getting hit hard? Hit the Magic Glowy Goodness button and take a little pressure off your healer. It’s not as powerful as it would be if we were holydins, but in a world where mana is tight for healers but not for us and health pools don’t vanish in a few hits, it can make a very helpful difference.
Also remember this: you don’t have to use Word of Glory on yourself. There are a lot of fights in Cataclysm heroics (Siamat comes to mind) where the tank doesn’t take a huge pounding but the rest of the party does; if you can pop off a nice fat Word of Glory on your groupmates so long as you still have a comfortable threat lead (and right now I usually do), this can make the difference between a DPS that hits the floor due to triage and full survival as a party. Don’t brush this off because you’re the tank and not the healer and it’s “not your job”; in the fights that are effectively endurance challenges for the healer rather than mechanic dances, my healing done can approach as much as half as the actual healer’s. If you’ve fully talented into Shield of the Templar- and you should- divine plea is now going to be another cooldown, for when you need three holy power *right now*.
I manage this with a healer-like Grid/Clique setup; my three main mouse buttons are bound to Righteous Defense, Word of Glory, and Hand of Protection, with less-used abilities on shift-click combos, and my raid frames sitting just above my action bar in easy view but out of the way of my view of the battlefield. The ability to use the broad paladin toolbox for helping your party has always been what separates adequate tankadins from good ones, and never moreso than now.