I remember the first day I logged on Gillien after 3.0 landed and I found out that my action bars looked like swiss cheese. Judgements no longer consumed a seal and the old ability that was simply called Judgement was gone. Blessing of Light was gone. So was Blessing of Salvation, though it was now Hand of Salvation. Blessing of Protection was now Hand of Protection.
I also had this funny new talent called Beacon of Light that was really irritating to refresh and of dubious worth to hear some of the forum pundits say. Some folks advised just using it for specific encounters where party damage was expected, like that stupid infernal in Arcatraz that dropped meteors on people's heads.
Other things changed too, like prot paladins no longer worrying about spellpower weapons and actually benefiting from Strength.
Suddenly as a Horde paladin I had Seal of Vengeance, and Alliance paladins got Seal of the Martyr. Seals depended on a mix of attack power and spellpower to do their damage, but even though this mix worked for the ret and prot paladins, the spellpower component ended up being too weak for a holy paladin trying to dps. Compared to a priest, shaman, or possibly even druid, the healing-focused paladin has to have some of the worst dps out there (though due to the plate we're not bad at soloing, it just takes a long time).
Though I don't foresee myself ever giving up the moonkin, I'm intensely curious about what is going to happen to the paladin. It's extremely versatile class that just keeps getting tweaked over and over again. Spellpower gear for ret/prot to no spellpower gear. Talents get shifted around because holy goes too far down the ret tree and then too far down the prot tree. All three specs used to have Spiritual Attunement, but now prot has to talent for it. Dispelling magic is going to become a holy-only ability through talents.
I rather like the fact that paladins have had a toolkit that can be used regardless of spec, I've even taunted as a holy paladin before (and not to be jerk). It's part of the fun of being a hybrid, being able to do certain functions without respecing. Need I mention my now-dead pastime of holy-tanking 5-mans?
I have a suspicion that paladins will be undergoing a lot of changes again. Blizzard tweaks everybody between expansions, but it seems like paladins undergo revolutions every time.
I was reading WoW.com The Light and How to Swing It column yesterday, covering what the columnist expected would happen for Cataclysm, and it's really odd how differently we seem to feel about the class.
The first thing he talks about, I would not be surprised to see come through, would be the three heal model, since Ghostcawler has brought it up before for shaman and priests. The three heal model would have a little heal to top someone off (Flash of Light), medium heal for majority of jobs (doesn't current exist), and big heal for when you really need it (Holy Light).
Personally, it took a little getting used to when I was healing in Burning Crusade (when max rank Holy Light bombing was not the trend) to work with just two types of heal spells. Most paladins kept one or two middle-ranked Holy Lights around to conserve mana and for the slightly faster cast time. This was the middle heal. But we lost it in WotLK.
So I could see it coming back, since Holy Light bombing would probably be too expensive. It'll probably be called Righteous Light or something silly to keep it in line with all the paladin ability names that have to use things like "light," "holy," "righteous," "hammer," and so on.
I do, however, have to disagree with the columnist's prediction of the death of Divine Plea, though for different reasons. Chase Christian seems to think that holy paladins find it useless, and ignore it once they have two piece T10 and trinkets (he doesn't mention what those trinkets are), which I have trouble believing.
The holy paladin in my raid uses DP, and so do I, and we both have two piece T10. I try to use DP in conjunction with two piece T10. Perhaps it's because we don't heal 25-mans, but Divine Plea is definitely useful. It's a good portion of why so many paladins stack intellect. It's not just to get more casts off.
But, if Divine Plea dies, it will be because prot and ret will be getting a different mana regen mechanic and because holy in all likelihood will be getting a Meditation mastery like all the other healing specs have been. Blizzard has spoken about spreading it to all healers and there's no reason paladins should be an exception. As for what our regen stat will be… it'll be Spirit, like everyone else. I believe this was mentioned as far back as last year's Blizzcon when they announced mp5 was going away.
Mr. Christian then goes on to lament the usefulness of Holy Shock and Sacred Shield (obviously not an arena player or two-healing 10-mans if Holy Shock "does a woeful job"). The improvement of Holy Shock for WotLK was fantastic. For much of Ulduar and Naxx I used it as a gauge of whether or not a holy paladin was decent player capable of using every spell in his or her toolbox. Anyone can sit in a corner and spam FoL or HL. HS requires thought.
Sacred Shield isn't just for casting FoL either. It absorbs damage too. It might not be a priest shield, but it's still a shield for a class that has no HoTs, which means it buys a little breathing room for all the damage it absorbs. Looking at my last ICC World of Logs parse it contributed to 8%-12% of my effective healing, depending on the boss fight.
I will say though, that the numbers may be a little off, because my last raid was on an older computer with a bad framerate, so I was not quite the healing machine I should have been. Had I better reaction time the percentage might have been lower since I would have gotten casts off faster, but who would argue with shaving off 2000-2500 damage ten times a minute? It might not be much when the tank is being hit for 40k, but those are usually special attacks or phases of the fight where the tank should be blowing cooldowns (or else something has gone horribly wrong).
Looking back at that same ICC log at our bear tank, on average the largest hit he took from a boss on a run that covered Marrowgar to Valithria was 10k from Festergut. Granted, there's a lot of other damage going on besides melee from bosses in most of the ICC boss fights, and bosses attack faster than Sacred Shield can be refreshed, but it still shaves off damage every few seconds. Think of it as a HoT, except it's a periodic absorb instead of a heal. You wouldn't tell a resto druid her Rejuv is just there to improve her Nourish, would you? (Someone might get strangled if they did.)
Sacred Shield is good in arena too, where the damage is lower and the average player health higher. Blunting attacks means more, especially if the other team has an MS effect, since SS isn't effected by it. I wish the ret paladin on my 3s team was better about spending the occasional GCD to refresh his own since every bit absorbed is less for me to worry about.
Mr. Christian sounds like someone rather dissatisfied with being a paladin. (Maybe he really should be playing another class?) It's rather disheartening to hear from a paladin columnist who thinks we've been stuck with "the uninteresting game play that comes from basically using the same heals for five years" and hopes that Blizzard doesn't "make the same mistake that they did with Sacred Shield and Beacon of Light."
I never played on Alliance, so my introduction to paladin-ship came midway through Burning Crusade when my guild at the time was having a crisis and I wanted a little alt to escape on. So I have little idea what it was like healing in vanilla. But I healed in TBC, and I know what it was like healing one target at a time with my two, occasionally three, different spells (Holy Shock was very expensive for what you got out of it).
Beacon of Light was initially expensive, or seemed that way, and I had trouble remembering to keep it up, but became invaluable. The other paladin in my guild at the start of WotLK was enamored with the spell. She said it made two-healing Sapphiron possible (which we did very early on in WotLK). I found I liked it as well. Even though Beacon didn't take overheals back then, it let me heal the raid while also healing the tank. For 5-mans, as the only healer, it was even better. The only niggling issue I had was that Beacons didn't stack, so sometimes my Beacon would be overwritten by a different paladin if I was in a pug.
But those issues were fixed. Beacons could stack and now overheals count.
Learning to use Sacred Shield was also adjustment, especially since I only learned it at 80. I kept forgetting to use it and eventually rearranged my bars and keybinds to make it as convenient to get to as possible. Once I started using World of Logs, I noticed that it was often the fourth or fifth amount of healing done. It wasn't overwhelming, but it wasn't chump change either. I made it a point to keep Sacred Shield up.
Paladin healing is still a lot of whack a mole, but that's a lot of what healing in a raid is. It's triage. You evaluate the situation, who needs to be healed, and you pick the tool for the job. Maybe it does have to involve Holy Light gunning (goodness knows ICC is the first raid I've ever done on my paladin where I felt obligated to HL spam), but that strat is completely different from TBC where paladins were prized for their mana efficiency and not the size of their heal bombs.
I have fun playing a holy paladin. Maybe it's a limited toolkit, but it's an interesting one, and we don't have anything that drops into the field of just being useless. I remember talking with a priest friend about all the crazy heals his class had and he said that yeah, he had them, but in reality he only used about four of them. The rest didn't make sense for his spec or rarely made sense at all. And about four spells is right where the paladin toolkit is.
For Cataclysm I think that paladins are likely to get a real AoE heal. It's the only thing in our toolkit we really lack. It might be on a long cooldown, and it probably won't be a HoT since Blizzard had stated before that they didn't then HoTs were very paladin-y. Our AoE might be something like a Tranquility where it's channeled. Maybe it'll come out from the Beacon so we can heal the tank and the melee nearby. Maybe it'll be centered around us. It hopefully won't be party based since those kinds of talents/abilities make raid leaders annoyed.
I'm also holding out hope for the demise of spellpower plate, but I think last Blizzard said, they didn't have a solution for it. It just kills me when it drops in a raid and there are no holy paladins (and because I'm usually not on Gillien when it does!).