As we get beckoned into the realms of death, the champions of Azeroth battle great evils that threaten the cosmos. Protection Paladins will lead the way as they are on the front lines to take on any threat.
This article will provide an overview of the changes and new abilities that are coming in Shadowlands for Protection Paladins. It will also list out my concerns with the current design and my wish list of what I would change.
Disclaimer: There are opinions expressed below that are based on playing a slice of the Alpha that doesn’t include any end game testing. Opinions are subject to change once more systems and content unlock for testing.
About the Author
This article was written by Lincoln. He currently holds the Templar rank in the Hammer of Wrath Community where he helps players get better at playing Protection. Feel free to message him questions, comments or concerns about what you read in the article.
Protection has seen some significant changes in Shadowlands. So far, the changes return the spec closer to what it was in Warlords of Draenor where you built up a resource then spent it with a big ability. Functionally some buttons are similar to what we saw in Battle for Azeroth but the flow of combat is vastly different.
So what does this mean in practice?
How will this impact your gameplay?
On the gameplay side, you’ll want to make sure you’re standing in Consecration for Mastery: Divine Bulwark then you’ll prioritize Judgment first, then Hammer of Wrath if it’s available, then Avenger’s Shield, then Hammer of the Righteous. You’ll primarily use your Holy Power on Shield of the Righteous to mitigate physical damage while using Word of Glory to counter Magic damage or spikes.
There is a new mechanic in Shadowlands that can affect your Word of Glory use — Shining Light. Currently on Alpha it reduces the cost of your Word of Glory by 1 Holy Power for every Judgment you cast. This passive will increase your Holy Power efficiency over the course of a sustained tanking scenario. If you were to strictly use Word of Glory when it was free, you would get one heal every ~15 seconds, making it as frequent as Light of the Protector in Battle for Azeroth.
Holy Power along talents and passives it brings along with it add some flexibility to how you can use abilities. For example, you can now use Word of Glory multiple times in a row which is not possible with Light of the Protector.
Talent Changes in Shadowlands
The return of Holy Power means that talents are changing too. Here are some of the changes you’ll see in Shadowlands:
- Blessed Hammer has had it’s damage reduction redesigned. It now works on all damage
Regardless of any changes, this talent is looking strong in Shadowlands. It provides an extra charge over Hammer of the Righteous to help fill open GCDs while also giving flexibility for out of combat Holy Power generation. The damage reduction will be really strong for low damage in-take situations but weak for high damage in-take situations.
Redoubt is radically different. It now gives bonus Strength and Stamina for a short duration, stacking up to three times.
- This talent is far more functional than the BFA version. It’s an increase to your effective health vs. physical and magic damage and will especially shine against magic nukes. The jury is still out on this talent because it seems specialized and its usage will depend on encounter design.
- First Avenger is back on solid foundation as a viable talent again. It’s going to be strong in dungeon content or on multi-target encounters where you can benefit from extra hits of Avenger’s Shield. With proper tuning, it’s going to be much more competitive with Crusader’s Judgment.
- This talent is very weak. It turns Ardent Defender into an offensive cooldown in single target scenarios where your Avenger’s Shield will hit one target. Generally, its counter-intuitive to turn a defensive cooldown into an offensive cooldown in any scenario. In multi-target, where you might benefit from Avenger’s Shield hitting more targets, you won’t need this effect because you’ll get constant procs. And you won’t be able to chain interrupt casters because they won’t melee. The talent is not effective in any scenario. It likely needs some revisions to make it viable.
- This allows you to have a defensive option if you don’t need Blessing of Spellwarding. I was a big fan of Unbreakable Spirit in Battle for Azeroth and I’m happy to see Blizzard move it to a row where it could see more use.
- Divine Purpose and Holy Avenger return from Warlords of Draenor to Protection while Seraphim is being moved to this row. As mentioned, this is a customization of playstyle. You can take the random procs of Divine Purpose, the control of Holy Avenger or another spender in Seraphim. With proper tuning, this will be a strong row that will allow for more talent options and customization in how you approach Holy Power.
- This talent suffers from similar problems to other Holy Power talents. Holy Power is in abundance on the current Alpha build and this talent can feel excessive at times.
- This talent is really strong on Alpha currently. You have a glut of Holy Power between baseline and talent options so this converts resources into something of value.
Like all classes, Paladins are seeing the return of abilities from days gone that will add flavor and supplement the fantasy. The abilities returning to Paladins in Shadowlands are:
Hammer of Wrath returns! This is an execute style ability that is usable when your target has 20% health or less. It grants 1 Holy Power when used. You will gain a passive at level 58 that will allow you to use Hammer of Wrath during Avenging Wrath regardless of your target’s health.
Auras are back! These are passive abilities that will buff allies in range of the Paladin. You can only have one Aura selected at a time and switching Auras incurs the global cooldown. The returning Auras are:
- Devotion Aura grants a small amount of passive damage reduction.
- Concentration Aura reduces the duration of interrupts and silence effects by a percentage. This is one of the abilities you’ll learn while leveling up from 50 to 60.
- Crusader Aura increases the mounted speed of you and your allies by 20%. This replaces Heart of the Crusader.
- Retribution Aura grants you Avenging Wrath for a short duration whenever someone in your party or raid dies. This currently only affects the Paladin that has the Aura active. You will get a passive at level 56 that increases the duration of Avenging Wrath by 50%.
The Anti-Undead class fantasy returns, somewhat with the unpruning of the following abilities.
- Sense Undead is a level 54 ability that will mark your mini-map with any nearby Undead targets.
- Turn Evil is a returning crowd control that fears your target for a medium duration. It only works on Demons, Undead or Aberrations.
In Shadowlands, there will be a new system called Covenants. They will offer unique perks and bonuses for being a member. As you level up, you can try them all out but eventually you will have to select one to advance your character’s progression. When you join one, you will be granted a Class Covenant Ability that is unique to your player class. Everyone who plays the same class will have access to this ability regardless of spec. Then you will be granted a Covenant Signature Ability which is granted everyone who joins that Covenant regardless of class.
Here is a brief summary of each covenant class and signature ability and how they might impact a Protection Paladin in Shadowlands.
Divine Toll has been the talk of Alpha for Protection Paladins. We love and adore it as it amplifies our fantasy as a shield throwing Holy Warrior. It’s really useful for mob pick up, interrupting a bunch of casters or just doing area of effect damage. The Holy Power gained also scales per target hit so if you hit 5 targets, you will gain 5 Holy Power. The downside is that at the low end, it will hit one target and generate one Holy Power. In that scenario, it effectively becomes a plain Avenger’s Shield on a one minute cooldown.
Summon Steward is a quality of life and utility button. It gives a potion that clears some debuffs while granting other benefits like talent changes or vendor items. Generally, I think this is the weakest covenant signature ability of the four. The healing from the potion is on the health potion cooldown while providing less healing until you’re in end game gear at level 60. Additionally, Paladins do not have many issues with debuffs such as poisons, diseases or bleeds.
Ashen Hallow has been changed at least once so far in Alpha. It’s not as bad as it once was but it’s still the weakest of all the class abilities and seems the least fun. To help provide context on its power, Ashen Hallow is worth 1 Holy Power per minute while Vanquisher’s Hammer is worth 6 Holy Power per minute. Blizzard has communicated that they are open to adjusting the ability and I hope they do. One idea could be that Hammer of Wrath generates 2 Holy Power per cast while you’re standing in Ashen Hallow instead of just 1.
Door of Shadows is by far the best signature ability on Alpha. It has a 35 yard range which is effectively max range in most situations. It doesn’t have as many pathing checks as similar abilities, meaning it has no real limits on where you can go. A good rule of thumb from testing this on Alpha is that if you can see it, you can use Door of Shadows to get there. For tanking, one downside is the cast time. Casting spells while actively tanking is generally discouraged but there will be plenty of situations where you’re not tanking and can use this safely.
Vanquisher’s Hammer is a hidden gem of Covenant Class Abilities for Protection Paladins. It doesn’t have the visuals of Divine Toll but it’s just as good, if not more so. For Protection, Vanquisher’s Hammer makes your next Word of Glory automatically cast a free Shield of the Righteous. This would include any free Word of Glory casts from three stacks of Shining Light. Vanquisher’s Hammer improves your Holy Power efficiency significantly making it easier to keep Shield of the Righteous active for those dangerous moments. On average, Vanquisher’s Hammer is worth ~15% more Shield of the Righteous uptime. One lesser known note is that the free Shield of the Righteous does damage and it can proc. talents like Divine Purpose making this ability fit in nicely with the Shadowlands Protection kit and talents. I personally like this covenant class ability a lot.
Fleshcraft provides an absorb shield equal to 20% of your HP and if you’re next to a corpse, you gain a bigger shield that can go up to 50% of your max health. It potentially has nice interactions with datamined Soulbind abilities such as Emeni’s Magnificent Skin because Vanquisher’s Hammer can be used more frequently allowing for more stacks. However, this ability suffers from two problems. First, you can’t dodge, parry, or block during the channel meaning that you lose some tankiness to get the shield active. Second, the shield can suffer chip damage. By the time you finish channeling, the shield could be gone because you were taking damage.
Blessing of the Seasons is a tedious ability that is just functional. It provides four unique buffs to your party members in the form of some passive damage, cooldown reduction, lower enemy movement and attack speed, and increased healing taken and done. It’s tedious because you need to track which one you currently have up, which one is next in the rotation and when you want to activate it. It’s an ability that will require a Weakaura to use effectively because it can be hard to track otherwise. Additionally, there are some minor quirks with the ability on Alpha. First, the cooldown reduction doesn’t function with anything that is flagged as having charges in the spell data. For example, it doesn’t work on Judgment because it can have extra charges with Crusader’s Judgment. Second, if you have two Paladins in the group with this ability, they can overwrite each other. The group can only be affected by one Blessing at a time.
Soulshape is a movement ability that helps you get around when needed. The blink effect is limited because of its short range. It does give you some control if you need to move frequently in a short duration. It’s not the best covenant ability but it could be useful for a class with limited mobility options like a Paladin.
Way too early Covenant Rankings
It’s way too early to rank the Covenants based just on the class abilities and signatures. There are a number of unknown systems including Soulbinds, Conduits and Legendaries that will provide benefits alongside these new abilities.
But if I had to score the abilities listed above, I would rank Door of Shadows as the best Signature ability and Vanquisher’s Hammer as the best class ability. They have the least amount of downsides and provide significant benefits for Protection Paladins given the strengths and weaknesses of the spec.
Concerns about Shadowlands Protection Paladin
Like every class, there are concerns with how Protection Paladins are on Alpha. I believe they play well and would go live as solid tanks as-is but if I were to point out where I think the faults are, this is what I would say.
The Holy Power economy
As I touched on earlier, Protection has a glut of Holy Power giving it frequent access to Shield of the Righteous or Word of Glory . The income is enough baseline that talents like Holy Avenger or Sanctified Wrath do not provide any real meaningful value. Additionally, optional abilities like Vanquisher’s Hammer, which can provide significant Shield of the Righteous uptime would provide less in practice because of already high baseline Holy Power generation.
The Active Mitigation Cap
There was a change after Nighthold to prevent tanks from stacking up their Active Mitigation for too long of a duration. The current cap is 3x the duration of your Active Mitigation or 13.5 seconds in the case of Protection. While it was mostly targeted at Monks (source), it did affect Paladins and continues to do so to this day. It’s quite often on Alpha that you’ll be so close to the cap and will have to sit on your Holy Power generators or Shield of the Righteous and wait to prevent the waste of Holy Power.
Non-Blessed Hammer builds
There is a problem with non-Blessed Hammer builds on Alpha. Blessed Hammer is such a strong quality of life option because it lets you start any encounter with three to five Holy Power while other non-Blessed Hammer builds can’t. It just takes longer for a build without Blessed Hammer to get their first Shield of the Righteous up.
There is some downtime in the rotation on Alpha. You will have periods with nothing to hit because everything is on cooldown or recharging. This could rarely happen in Battle for Azeroth but it happens much more frequently in Shadowlands. The main reason it happens is that the recharge time of Hammer of the Righteous was increased from 4.5 seconds to 6 seconds baseline meaning you have less filler.
Word of Glory is inconsistent and on the GCD
Word of Glory has similar problems to Light of the Protector in that it doesn’t provide any consistency. Since the ability can critically strike, you can get a small heal that barely moves your health bar or you can get a big heal that tops you off instantly. Word of Glory has too much variance in it’s effect. And please take it off the GCD. Reactive tank abilities shouldn’t be on the GCD, period, end of story.
Judgment is too strong
This has been a main-stay issue for Protection Paladins since the start of Battle for Azeroth. Judgment is so strong in the numbers and effect that it overtakes Avenger’s Shield and Hammer of Wrath in terms of rotational priority. Avenger’s Shield and Hammer of Wrath are more iconic abilities that should be must presses when available.
General lack of polish
Protection just needs some general polish. For example, free abilities from Divine Purpose and Shining Light do not grant the cooldown reduction provided by Righteous Protector and Fist of Justice. This means that these talents can’t be used together effectively.
Another example would be that Holy Avenger and Seraphim do not have any instant effect like other cooldowns. They just consume a GCD to empower future actions. This is out of step with changes that are being made to other cooldowns.
My wish list
To wrap things up, here is my wish list for Protection Paladins. I don’t think they need a wholesale redesign like Shadow Priests but they could use some polish. Here is what I would change.
- I would reduce Holy Power generation by changing Avenger’s Shield to only generate Holy Power on a Grand Crusader proc. This change would be aimed at giving a slight boost in effectiveness to the talents and abilities that supplement the Holy Power system. It sounds weird to want to nerf the spec. but it would be in the best interest of the gameplay for there to be less Holy Power generated baseline.
- I would remove the Active Mitigation cap. It’s no longer needed especially once you consider the changes to Monks. It would also address some concerns with talents like Holy Avenger that make it easier to brush up against the cap regularly.
- I would bring back Exorcism or Holy Wrath to help fill empty GCDs. They don’t need to generate Holy Power and can be on long cooldowns but having a button available to press to minimize downtime would be helpful.
- I would change Word of Glory to be more consistent by removing its ability to critical strike. However, I would increase the base part of the heal by a percentage to compensate. Also, I would end every Protection Paladin’s suffering and take Word of Glory off the GCD.
- I would make the Battle for Azeroth version of the First Avenger talent baseline. Inspiring Vanguard provided significant quality of life for the rotation since you’ll get more Grand Crusader procs. This change would help bring that back. But it would also help move Avenger’s Shield up the priority list of buttons to press in all situations. It should be your top priority button which is not the case right now in Battle for Azeroth or Shadowlands. Avenger’s Shield is an iconic and memorable ability that is core to fantasy of a Protection Paladin. When it’s available, the game should encourage you to press it above all else.
- I would increase Hammer of Wrath damage for Protection so its higher priority than Judgment.
- I would improve the polish. I would fix the interaction between Righteous Protector and Divine Purpose or add instant effects to Holy Avenger or Seraphim.
- Finally, I would reshuffle talents a bit. I would move Final Stand where Cavalier is, move Cavalier where Judgment of Light is and add a completely new talent where Final Stand is. This would better balance the choices on each row making the choices between talents a bit more even.
This marks the end of the Protection Paladin write-up and their state in Shadowlands. Stay tuned to Wowhead for more Shadowlands coverage.
If you’re interested in learning more about Protection Paladin things in Shadowlands, join the Shadowlands channel for Protection Paladins on the Hammer of Wrath Discord.