Holy Specs Debate: The Big Picture as of 3.3
Ah, speccing holy! For no other reason but to confuse us, there are two general PvE trends: Holy/Prot, sometimes called Bubble Spec, and Holy/Ret, sometimes called Crit Spec.
There are tiny sparks of discussion floating around the internet, but I have yet to see someone address the issue the way I want it addressed. Ferraro’s holy speccing guide needs to be updated (I think it will be soon). The Holy Paladin does an excellent job of describing both specs, but doesn’t tie them together (here and here). At World of Matticus, @Dtotheug and jeffo briefly skimmed over the topic and left me spectually frustrated (sorry, bad joke, couldn’t help myself). At WoW.com, Chase Christian did a good job on his Holy 101 article, but I’d like to go more in depth. There’s the occasional thread on specs at Plus Heal, but forums are limiting. So I’m taking matters into my own hands.
Here’s the deal with the two holy spec trends.
Bubbles and Crits : An Overview
A Bubble Spec, 51/17/0+3 for example, is all about utility. Divine Sacrifice and Divine Guardian (DS/DG) are considered must haves for progression raids (read about them in 3.3 here!). Your Sacred Shield, a respectable source of damage mitigation, gets a boost via the Divine Guardian talent as well. The lowered cooldown on Hand of Protection is a favorite of mine for keeping those unruly dps (and occasional overzealous healing priest) under control. Stoicism, Improved Righteous Fury and the extra point in Toughness are lovely to have when you want to do some BGs without having to switch to a PvP spec. While they are considered PvP talents, they also shine at the most crucial moments in raids.
A Crit spec, 51/0/15 +5 for example, maximizes healing output and mana conservation/regen. Depending on what you do with your extra points, you can get 5 to 8% extra crit. What does that mean? It means your mana efficient Flash of Light heal and your instant Holy Shock have a higher chance of hitting harder. Harder is good, we like hard. Ok, the crit also boosts your already crazy powerful Holy Light heals, which will likely all go to overheal. Still, a toe-curling Holy Light crit has triggered many sighs of relief in my WoW life and shouldn’t be disregarded.
Who says crit also says Illumination. The more you crit, the more mana back you get. Everyone likes mana back, especially new 80 healers being tortured by merciless dps standing in junnk and pulling aggro left and right.
For discussion on debatable or “optional” talents, scroll down some! Also inserting cut due long long long post.
Help, I’m a new 80, what should I do?
My thoughts? When you’re new to 80, go Crit. As you’re getting the hang of holy paladin spells and getting geared in heroics, I’d suggest using specs along the lines of
Others may disagree. My reasoning is that as until you’re silly overgeared for heroics, you need the mana and output boost from a Crit spec. Besides, as a new level 80 healing paladin, you have enough on your plate (oh the pun!), learning to master Beacon of Light, there’s no point in sacrificing the crit to get toys you won’t think of using.
(EDIT: As pointed out by Leah in the comments, DS/DG from the Holy/Prot spec can have occasional utility in heroics when things get nasty. I would still favor the extra output and mana from crit over a cooldown I may never use if I were gearing up or exclusively running heroics, but it’s definitely not a rule carved in stone!)
Once you’re comfortable with your output and mana and as you feel ready to share your skills with a raid team, consider making the change to a Bubble spec.
What’s this Holy Light and Flash of Light spec deal?
Holy Light (HL) build? Flash of Light (FoL) build? If these terms aren’t clear to you, I recommend you read this explanation of the two playstyles. For discussions relating to glyphing, please refer to that post as well. Since glyphs are very depending on your healing style, I’m not going to get into them here.
There is a misconception that an FoL style locks you into a Crit spec and an HL style forces you to go Bubble spec. As far as I know, the idea of a FoL and HL spec was initially suggested by Ferraro. What started off as guidelines somehow turned into gospel for many. Yes, it does make a lot of sense. As a FoL paladin, you would need every extra ounce of output and mana regen you can get, which are only available from a Crit spec. As a Holy Light paladin, you’re already drowning in mana and your primary spell mostly goes to overheal, so you might as well trade in your crit for raid utility.
In practice, a Flash of Light paladin (of which there are, like, 3… the FoL path isn’t convenient for most paladins) may be required to bring DS/DG to the raid. Or, for whatever reason, they really want the bonus to Sacred Shield. As well, a “Holy Light playstyle” just means you can cast Holy Light as needed. Most HL paladins will be casting FoL most of the time anyway and, if they find they don’t use their Prot tree toys, they might as well go get some crit. Improved Blessing of Might may be needed in some situations as well (we’ll get into that shortly).
In other words, terms like “Flash of Light spec” and “Holy Light spec” irk me the way “defense cap” makes me cringe. It’s not a Flash of Light spec and a Holy Light spec, it’s a Bubble or Holy/Prot spec and a Crit or Holy/Ret spec. Just like it’s not a defense cap, it’s a defense minimum.
What about those optional talents?
Time for that can of worms! I’m going to break it down tree by tree and discuss the “debatable” talents. I’ll leave out the must-haves and must-ignores since I know you are all very smart and able to figure those out on your own based on talent tooltips and the sample specs in this post.
Aura Mastery – For a single talent point, you gain an aura boosting healing cooldown. It especially comes in handy in fights with a lot of elemental damage or fights with silences. Icehowl and Faction Champions come to mind. I didn’t include it in my “new level 80” spec suggestions since you’re not likely to use it in 5 mans, but you’ll want it for raiding.
Improved Lay on Hands – Love the shortened cooldown on LoH! The armor bonus after using LoH is handy (Oh another pun! I’m on fire tonight.), especially after hitting a soft enrage on a boss that deals a lot of melee damage. I have two points there, but I have seen some paladins limit themselves to one point.
Improved Concentration Aura – Unless you plan on PvPing a lot in your raid spec, there are better ways you can invest 3 talent points. That said moving up the holy tree does require you place a few points in “optional” talents. If you regularly run with another holy paladin, you can coordinate with them so that one of you puts 3 points in Improved Concentration Aura and the other places two points in Improved Blessing of Wisdom. Otherwise, it does have situational uses when used in combination with Aura Mastery during fights with silences or in fights where raid members are frequently targeted by direct damage.
Improved Blessing of Wisdom – When given the choice between two points in this talent and 3 points in Improved Concentration Aura, I went with this talent. If you’re always the only paladin in the raid and end up doing Kings all the time, there’s no point in speccing into this, but otherwise, you’ll want one holy paladin with this talent. Shamans have an equivalent totem talent, but Blessings are more convenient.
Blessed Hands – A decent place to put those extra talent points when you’ve got a Holy/Prot talent build. A must have if you run PuGs with tanks of questionable threat or DPS who can’t pace themselves. I also once received a comment from someone whose arcane mage husband LOVED how she had this talent. Which goes to show that if you’re married to a dpser who likes to unleash, this talent can contribute to marital bliss. Go go Blessed Hands.
Divinity – A base talent of the Bubble Spec, the healing bonus is an optional part of the Crit spec. It’s common practice to place 2 points here, but you can put 5 (recommended if you want to maximize your FoL and Holy Shock) or none. It’s been a debated topic since the beginning of Wrath, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal.
Stoicism – Out of all the filler talents you need to move up the Prot tree for a Bubble spec, it’s the most useful. Or least useless. It is foremost a PvP talent, but it does shine when you really need it.
Improved Righteous Fury – Again, a least useless of filler talents for the Bubble spec, it’s a helping hand in fights with a lot of raid damage as well as for soloing or PvPing in your raiding spec.
Toughness – Yet another Bubble spec filler talent that has some situational usefulness. You’re forced to put at least one point there, but, no worries, shorter slowing effects and more armor never hurt anyone.
Improved Hammer of Justice – Unless your tanks are really bad at AoE threat, I can’t think of a time you’ll need it in PvE, but if you PvP a lot in your raid spec, it doesn’t hurt to put your extra points there.
Improved Devotion Aura – If you don’t run with a prot paladin, putting those extra 3 points here can be helpful to your raid. If you do run with a prot paladin, chances are they’re specced into this and you’ll be wasting your talent points. If you only run heroics, I wouldn’t bother with this talent, although the bonus healing is nice.
Benediction – A base talent for the Crit spec, some paladins using the Bubble spec do put their 3 leftover points here. 6% doesn’t make a huge difference, when it comes to more mana efficient judgments and Holy Shocks, every little bit counts.
Improved Judgements -If you have a reliable ret paladin in your raid to do Improved Blessing of Might and keep up the Heart of the Crusader debuff, you could place two filler points in this Crit spec talent. I hope you are never bored enough to want to lower your judgement cooldown, but you never know…
Heart of the Crusader – If you don’t run with a ret paladin (or a class that provides a similar debuff), you must grab this talent for your Crit spec. Otherwise, it’s just a filler talent.
Improved Blessing of Might – This talent makes rogues everywhere happy. I’m sure it pleases other classes as well, but it’s always the rogues who ask for it. If there’s another paladin in the raid with the talent, you don’t need to pick it up, but you do have to spend some Crit spec filler points somewhere.
Pursuit of Justice – Ah, PoJ. I’m totally biased here. This is by far my favorite talent. It gets me out of the fire faster, if it fails, it assists me with my corpse run. Crit specced paladins typically don’t choose this talent, favoring a 2% healing bonus of Divinity over a run bonus. It’s really a question of personal preference here, of min/maxing output versus convenience. Note that the Tuskarr’s Vitality enchant to feet is an alternative to PoJ (yay Bubble specced pallies can run fast too!), but as far as I know, it’s about half as effective (8% run bonus as opposed to PoJ’s 15%).
Sanctity of Battle – As I hinted earlier, you have to choose between placing 3 points here, or filling out Divinity. If you’re looking to maximise your FoLs and Holy Shocks, go Divinity, otherwise, it doesn’t really matter. Your call.
Your Spec and Guild Applications
When applying to a larger raiding guild, a Holy/Prot spec will most likely make the best impression. Extra cooldowns and damage mitigation scream (useful) team player. That said, if you’re applying to a small guild where paladins are in short supply, Improved Blessing of Might and Heart of the Crusader talents from your Crit spec may make up for your selfish meter boosting crit talents.
Because of the misconception that a Holy/Ret spec requires you to gear and gem for a FoL style, when applying to a guild as a Crit specced, Int-stacking, Holy Paladin, be prepared to defend your choice. Or to provide them my email address, whichever works best.
Like for any other class, when applying to a guild, be able to explain your choice of spec and filler talents, as well as any unconventional talent-related decisions you may have made.
Yes, I’d like to make a closing statement. After spending nearly two weeks researching and drafting this post, I still want to conclude by saying that none of this is worth losing sleep over. Crit spec and Bubble spec both have their uses. Uses I summed up within the first few paragraphs. Both are viable and one might be preferred over the other depending on circumstances. Some really dedicated holy paladins who are not me use both specs and swap based on the fight.
In response to the many questions along the lines of “Should I change my spec?”, I’d like to point out that respecs aren’t that expensive. If you want to go and experiment, what’s holding you back?
EDIT: Made a few corrections/clarifications based on comments. Huge thanks to everyone who provided feedback! If you spot any other discrepancies or points to clarify, please don’t be shy.