Most of my attention has focused on paladins at the level cap, because that’s where you really have to pay attention; that’s where the difference in a few stat points actually makes a long-term difference, rather than just being a poor gear choice you’ll replace when you level again tomorrow.
However, there’s a lot of confusion out there about how to level a paladin; what talents, what gear choices, what playstyle? So I’m going to run a short semi-regular series about how to level a paladin, whether it’s an alt or you’re new to the game. I hope it proves useful.
Okay, on with the content.
Paladins have a number of potential playstyles: Holy paladins make great healers and can DPS in melee range. Protection paladins make great tanks and can DPS in melee range (using AoE abilities to kill a lot of mobs at once, usually). Retribution paladins make good melee DPSers – it’s a very popular PvP spec for paladins, too.
Healing and tanking are very separate issues; for the moment I’m going to look at DPSing, as that’s what you’ll do most of when you’re levelling. At its core, paladins do the following when DPSing: buff themselves and their friends (with a static Aura and medium-duration Blessing buffs), cast a Seal, run in and start hitting the mob, Judge the Seal onto the mob, cast a new Seal, repeat until death. (Yours or the mob’s. :))
“Auras? Blessings? Seals? Judging? What the hell?” Paladins have a number of spell types; let’s take a look at them here. Note that every single spell I’m discussing here is an instant-cast spell.
Paladin Spells: Auras, Blessings, and Seals & Judgements
- Auras: You can have one aura active at a time, and it will affect everyone in your party within a certain distance of you (normally 30 yards, 40 with a Holy talent). Auras are static and only need to be re-applied if you die or change aura. Your aura choices are:
- Devotion Aura: You start with this at level 1; it gives everyone extra Armor. Often the “default” aura when there’s nothing better to use, because people almost always take physical damage.
- Retribution Aura: First gained at level 16; it causes Holy damage to anyone who strikes a person with this aura. This is very popular with paladin tanks, as the damage caused by Retribution Aura adds to the threat of the person being hit.
- Concentration Aura: Gained at level 22; helps ignore spell interruption caused by taking damage (and with a Protection talent it reduces the duration of silence and interrupt effects used against protected people, too). Very popular if you’re fighting mobs that silence you or interrupt spellcasting, particularly if you’re in a party with lots of spellcasters.
- Resistance Auras: Shadow Resist (first gained at 28), Frost Resist (first gained at 32) and Fire Resist (first gained at 36). These give the relevant type of Resistance to protected people; they don’t stack with things like Shaman resist totems, the priest’s Shadow Protection buff, or the resists granted by the druid’s Mark of the Wild buff – so if you have a priest in your party who’s giving Prayer of Shadow Protection, for instance, don’t bother with that Shadow Resistance Aura. Otherwise, these auras are very useful for elemental damage fights, especially used in concert with resistance gear.
- Sanctity Aura: This can be gained any time from level 30 onwards, it’s the 21-point talent in the Retribution talent tree. It increases Holy damage done by anyone affected, so it’s great for paladins and holy priests who are levelling. It’s also used in endgame raids to amplify the damage dealt by a paladin tank, to boost up their threat.
- Crusader Aura: Gained at level 62; increases mounted speed for all affected people by 20%. It doesn’t stack with any other movement-speed increases (Riding Crop, Mithril Spurs, the Pursuit of Justice talent, etc).
- Blessings: These are the core Paladin buffs, which generally last 10 minutes and can usually be applied to any friendly player. (Some are shorter duration and can only be applied to party members.) You can only put one Blessing on any given player. The Blessings are:
- Blessing of Might: First gained at level 4, adds Attack Power. Good for DPS warriors, feral druids, hunters, enhancement shaman, rogues, retribution paladins.
- Blessing of Wisdom: First gained at level 15, adds Mana Regen (mana per 5 seconds, or mp5). Good for pretty much any mana-using class, although some (like hunters, DPS and tank paladins, and enhancement shaman) would probably prefer something different unless your party has more than one paladin.
- Blessing of Kings: Can be gained at level 20 (with 11 talent points in the Protection tree), increases all base attributes (Strength, Agility, Stamina, Intellect, Spirit) by 10%. A very popular blessing, especially good for tanks but useful for basically anyone.
- Blessing of Salvation: Gained at level 26. Can only be placed on party members. Reduces all threat caused by the recipient by 30%. On no account should this be used on tanks (otherwise they’ll never keep agro); otherwise, useful in parties when you have DPSers who keep out-agroing the tank. Particularly popular with DPS players who don’t have any inbuilt abilities or talents to drop their threat: so, DPS warriors, enhancement shamans and the like. Note that this blessing is not much use when you’re soloing or in a small party, unless you’re taking on targets (instances, elite mobs, etc) that require proper tanking.
- Blessing of Sanctuary: Can be gained at level 30 (with 21 talent points in the Protection tree), reduces all incoming damage by a small amount per attack, and causes a small amount of reflected Holy damage to an attacker when the blessed player blocks a melee attack. This one’s a core blessing for tanks, particularly paladin tanks, particularly paladin tanks in AoE tanking situations. (The damage reduction helps in situations with a lot of small incoming attacks, and the reflected Holy damage boosts the tank’s threat. See the tanking guide coming up later for more details.)
- Blessing of Light: First gained at level 40. Increases the effects of Holy Light and Flash of Light used on the blessed target. This one’s good when you have a paladin healing the tank, and the tank is going to need a lot of healing. Rarely used until facing difficult instances and endgame raids.
- Blessing of Protection: First gained at level 10. Lasts 6-10 seconds, depending on spell rank; can only be used on party members. Has a 5-minute cooldown (3 minutes with Protection talents). Protects the recipient from all physical attacks, but they can’t attack in return. Excellent to save, say, a mage or priest buddy when s/he’s getting beaten up; drop a Blessing of Protection on them, and they can still safely cast. Note that this doesn’t protect you from spell or elemental damage.
- Blessing of Freedom: Gained at level 18. Lasts 10 seconds (14 with Protection talents). Has a 25-second cooldown. Makes the recipient immune to all movement-impairing effects. Works well for getting out of nets and the like tossed by mobs; also popular in PvP for getting away from hamstrings, wing-clips and other effects that slow you down or pin you in place.
- Blessing of Sacrifice: First gained at level 46. Lasts 30 seconds with a 30-second cooldown. Transfers a small amount of damage per incoming attack from the blessing recipient to the paladin that cast the blessing. This one has two main uses: the first is to protect someone from damage if they’re going to take a lot of small attacks. The second, and more common use, is in PvP (and some PvE encounters) where the paladin is likely to be CCed, stunned or feared. The transfer of damage from the blessing recipient will break the paladin out of the CC/stun/fear, allowing them to act normally.
- GREATER BLESSINGS: There are Greater variants of all the standard-length 10-minute Blessings (Wisdom, Might, Kings, Salvation and Sanctuary). These Greater blessings differ from standard Blessings in several ways:
- They require a reagent (Symbol of Kings)
- They last for 30 minutes rather than 10
- They affect all the members of a class in your party/raid (within buff range)
So, let’s assume I’m buffing a raid, and I’m the only paladin. I cast Greater Blessing of Wisdom on the healer druid standing next to me, and all the druids in the raid (who aren’t out of range or PvP-flagged) are simultaneously buffed with Greater Blessing of Wisdom. If the raid also has a feral druid who will be DPSing, they’d prefer Blessing of Might, so I can target them and cast the standard Blessing of Might. It will overwrite the Greater Blessing of Wisdom on that druid only, although it only lasts 10 minutes so I’ll need to re-bless them singly twice more before everyone else’s Greater Blessings wear off.
- Seals and Judgements: these are the paladin’s very short term special effects; each Seal spell has two effects depending on whether you’ve buffed yourself with it (the Seal buff) or debuffed the enemy (the Judgement debuff). Seals apply only to the paladin, and Judgements are applied to an enemy, but their effect often works on anybody attacking the Judged enemy. Yes, it’s a bit of a muddle; follow on, and I’ll explain. (Also, as with most Paladin effects, a paladin can only have one Seal active at a time, and only one Judgement debuffing a given enemy.)
The mechanics of Seals and Judgements work like this: first of all, a Paladin will cast a Seal, which is a short term buff (30 second) that takes effect (or has a chance to take effect) every time you swing your weapon. If you want to apply the debuff half of the spell’s effects to the mob instead, you cast Judgement (a pally spell with 10 yd range and a 10-second cooldown) and it takes away your Seal and applies the debuff half of it to the mob you’re targeting instead. Using Seal of the Crusader as an example, the Seal effect adds Attack Power and makes the paladin attack 40% faster (although doing less damage with each attack); the Judgement effect gives the mob a debuff that lasts for 20 seconds and increases Holy damage the mob takes from any attacker.
Judgement debuffs last 20 seconds, but they can be extended without having to reapply them altogether. A melee strike from the paladin will refresh the debuff applied by that paladin; a Crusader Strike attack from a Retribution paladin will refresh all Judgement debuffs on a target.
Clear as mud? Okay, let’s take a look at the actual Seals and Judgements:
- Seal of Righteousness: on every swing, causes an extra amount of Holy damage, increasing with your weapon damage. (2H weapons do more damage from SoR, too, to account for the fact that they swing a lot slower.)
- Judgement of Righteousness: a direct hit of Holy damage to the enemy. Is not actually a debuff, just a damaging attack, so doesn’t overwrite any existing Judgements from this paladin.
- Seal of the Crusader: adds Attack Power, and causes the paladin to swing 40% faster (though doing less damage with each swing).
- Judgement of the Crusader: a debuff that increases the amount of Holy damage taken by the mob.
- Seal of Command: has a chance on every swing to deal extra holy damage equal to 70% of the weapon’s damage. Requires 11 points in the Retribution tree.
- Judgement of Command: a direct hit of Holy damage to the enemy (increased if the enemy is stunned). Like Judgement of Righteous, this is not actually a debuff, just a damaging attack, so doesn’t overwrite any existing Judgements from this paladin.
- Seal of Justice: each melee attack has a chance to stun the target for 2 seconds.
- Judgement of Justice: stops the affected target from fleeing from combat (only applies to mobs that will run from combat, obviously, and doesn’t stop player enemies from running away in PvP).
- Seal of Light: on every swing, the paladin has a chance to regain a small amount of health.
- Judgement of Light: a debuff causing all melee attacks against the judged enemy to have a chance to return health to the attacker.
- Seal of Wisdom: on every swing, the paladin has a chance to regain a small amount of mana.
- Judgement of Wisdom: a debuff causing all melee and ranged attacks (including spells and wand shots) to have a chance to return mana to the attacker.
- Seal of Vengeance: available to Alliance paladins only, at level 64. Every swing has a chance to apply a Holy damage-over-time effect (called Holy Vengeance) to the target, which can stack up to 5 times. Once the stack hits 5 applications, further triggers of the Seal’s effect will refresh the duration of the existing stack and do a small amount of Holy damage to the enemy.
- Judgement of Vengeance: a direct hit of Holy damage to the enemy, which increases for every stack of Holy Vengeance (so applying this Judgement before your Seal has stacked any DoTs on will actually achieve nothing at all). Is not actually a debuff, just a damaging attack, so doesn’t overwrite any existing Judgements from this paladin.
- Seal of Blood: available to Horde paladins only, at level 64. All melee attacks deal extra Holy damage equal to 35% of weapon damage, but also cause 10% of this to the paladin as well.
- Judgement of Blood: a large direct hit of Holy damage to the enemy, and also causes 33% of this to the paladin as well. Is not actually a debuff, just a damaging attack, so doesn’t overwrite any existing Judgements from this paladin.
Putting It In Practice: Basic Paladin DPS While Levelling
So, what do all these Seals and Judgements actually mean in practice? Well, if you look carefully you can see some synergies there. (Judgement of Wisdom is particularly helpful in raids, to extend the mana longevity of all your ranged DPSers.) However, from a levelling perspective, Judgement of the Crusader and either Seal of Righteousness or Seal of Command will be your bread and butter. A typical attack rotation will be:
- Run towards the enemy, firing up Seal of the Crusader (SotC) as you go.
- As soon as you’re within 10 yards, use Judgement to apply SotC to the enemy as the Judgement of the Crusader debuff.
- That Judgement doesn’t trigger the global cooldown, so immediately fire up your next Seal – either Seal of Righteousness (SoR) or Seal of Command (SoC). SoR works well if you’re using a 1H weapon and you have lots of spelldamage gear; it scales better with spelldamage than with weapon damage. SoC is the reverse, and comes into its own when you have a big, powerful 2H weapon with very high damage.
- Keep swinging away with your weapon, with the Seal active. The Judgement of the Crusader debuff amplifies the Holy damage that your Seal is causing, and is refreshed by every melee strike you land on the enemy.
- Use Judgement as soon as its cooldown is up to cause a big burst of damage to the enemy (both SoR and SoC’s Judgement effects cause direct Holy damage without wiping off your Judgement of the Crusader debuff). Recast your SoR or SoC immediately.
- If you’re a Retribution paladin of at least level 50, use Crusader Strike straight away and whenever its cooldown is up for more Holy direct damage. (If you’re at least level 50, though, you shouldn’t need this guide in the first place. ;))
- Note: if you’re fighting very weak enemies that die in a few hits, skip the initial Judgement of the Crusader and use all your Judgements on SoR or SoC; the extra Holy damage of JotC requires the mob to live for a certain amount of attacks to pay for itself, otherwise you’re better off using the first Judgement to deal an extra burst of direct damage.
Well, that hopefully explains the “big picture” of paladin auras, blessings, seals and judgements. The next installments of the series will have a quick guide to healing and tanking, and will discuss gear choices and key talents while levelling. If there’s anything you’d particularly like to see discussed, feel free to leave a comment or let me know via the “Contact” link in the header.
A couple of corrections added, with thanks to Firelight and Adese.