In general, I don’t like to spend too much time commenting on PTR changes until there’s some indication that the changes are close to being finalized. Too much goes on behind the scenes at Blizzard and we’re only ever seeing half of the picture on the PTR, which can lead to some very badly misinformed analysis. The recent change on the PTR that makes Holy Shield an active melee-mitigation cooldown is an interesting change with a lot of implications, and it’s worth discussing simply due to the level of outcry about it already. Some very prominent protection paladins, myself included, have argued that the change is a net buff to survivability even though it’s an overall mitigation nerf. Many others have become hyperfocused on “Total Damage Reduction” (TDR) and consider it a huge nerf, and an annoyance at that. I won’t even begin to address the “it makes us into warriors” crowd.
I think that some of the disconnect in the perception of this change comes from a very basic disagreement between the two sides on how important given metrics are, and a fundamentally different understanding of healing paradigms. When I think about fights, and pore over logs, and consider the ways in which I can increase my survivability, there’s two broad classifications of damage that I consider. The first is what I term “throughput damage”; the general baseline background level of damage that will continue for the majority of the encounter. The second is, for lack of a better term, the “burst damage”; boss special abilities that hit the tank, boss abilities that reduce healing output (healer movement, stuns, etc), boss abilities that hit the raid and therefore reduce available healing for the tank – generally anything that might actually impact my survivability.
Throughput damage, in general, isn’t interesting. “Boss has swing speed of X and hits for Y – Tank needs Z healers.” It’s worth noting that if Z is ever more than one you need to train your healers to crossheal better. Raid healers can (and should) be spending spare GCDs on the tank – because what else are the GCDs good for? Renew, Rejuv, Lifebloom, Earth Shield, Riptide, PoM - HoT’s are especially strong at softening out throughput damage, and there is generally no excuse for the tank not to have full HoT coverage. During periods of low raid damage, then, tanks are generally catching quite a lot of incidental healing – and quite a lot of overhealing.
Burst Damage, whatever causes it, is what has the potential to kill tanks. Burst damage is generally interesting because you will have less healer attention available in most cases, and it is in this situation that good cooldown use is required. Some burst damage is well telegraphed, and has an obvious “Use Cooldown Here” mechanic, and those are the most boring of these windows. Other burst damage comes from stunned healers, or moving healers, or just a swap of healer attention to the raid, because you all took an electrocute, tank included. There are situations which might not telegraph “use cooldown here” that can kill you. Aware tanks can weight the dice in situations like this by being proactive about cooldown use.
It’s probably obvious from context, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about throughput damage. In my experience, it’s generally nonthreatening, and if a tank ever dies there was something else going on at the time. Healers are generally regenerating mana during periods of throughput damage because they’re all able to help out with efficient heals, and there’s quite a lot of overhealing going on even while using only efficient heals. Even in heroic content these phases happen with regularity on almost every fight. Losing 10% block value, and taking 17% more melee damage during this time will be virtually unnoticeable. Our TDR will go down, but when placed in context, that’s simply not all that important. It won’t cost significantly more mana to heal through this – note that tanks other than paladins are tanking content right now, and this change, AT WORST brings us back down to that level of static mitigation.
On the other hand, I spend lots of timing worrying about burst damage and cooldown maps. I always know which of my cooldowns are subscribed (spoken for, used to address specific fight mechanics) and which are not. This allows me to react effectively to periods of increased danger – generally by acting before I’ve taken the damage. Not all periods of increased danger are well telegraphed, but most of them are. You should know when your healers are about to be busy, or moving, or distracted, or incapacitated; that’s a good time to put up a cooldown pre-emptively. Viewed in that light, this Holy Shield change suddenly looks very powerful. Being able to reduce dangerous damage on demand contributes to survival in a much more meaningful way than reducing your total damage taken because it reduces the damage that costs mana to heal. When healers have to move to low-HPM spells mana begins to become a concern. Healing is not a static HPM game, and by limiting the damage that needs to be healed with low-HPM spells you can save your healers a significant amount of mana even while taking more damage over the course of a fight.
From a thematic point of view, I heartily approve of Blizzard making moves to put more active survival tools in the hands of tanks. I like that I have yet another opportunity to manage my own survival, a chance for my decisions to make a material difference in raid success – and raid failure. I will make mistakes with the new Holy Shield before I’m able to fully integrate it into my play. I will use it when it isn’t needed, I will have it on cooldown when it could be used. I’ll make the other mistake as well, I’ll save it when I could be using it. I will not be perfect – and that in and of itself makes this an excellent change.
Word of Glory was already an ability that’s undervalued and underutilized for being able to weight the dice in your favor, the new Holy Shield seems to be somewhat underestimated in this regard as well. Total Damage Reduction is a nice metric. It’s one I pay attention to, myself. But it’s not the whole story – it’s not even the most important part of the story, and I believe that we’re doing ourselves a disservice by overusing it.