Brainstorms in the Mists: Our 5.0 Rotation

Today, I want to share my proposal for our Mists of Pandaria rotation.  Most of this post is simply a revision of discussions Mel and I have been having over e-mail for the past few months.  In fact, all of this pre-dates the MoP announcement; the bulk of it was written in August.  Some of the suggested changes have already been hinted at, like gaining Holy Power from Judgement.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of them showing up as the beta draws nearer.

There are a few major goals we want to achieve in re-designing the protection paladin rotation.  The first is to break up the monotony of the CS-X-CS-X cycle.  While it’s good to have a steady rhythm to a rotation, it’s not ideal that every other spell we cast is CS.  So we want to break that repetitiveness up a little bit.

The second is to make filler spells matter more.  In the 3-second CS cycle, there aren’t very many places to fit filler spells, so their relative importance is significantly diminished.  This means that picking the “right” filler doesn’t end up having much of an impact; prioritizing J>AS in filler slots isn’t that much better or worse than doing AS>J, for example.  The ideal goal would be to make fillers a larger proportion of our damage, and provide enough of them that choosing them wisely has a more noticeable impact.

Finally, we want there to be a meaningful difference between the AoE and single-target rotations.  Right now, they don’t feel all that different because they both follow the same pattern: Holy Power Generator (HPG) – Filler – HPG – Filler – HPG – Finisher.  Thus, they have the same rhythm or tempo, and the same feel.  We want to break that up significantly, so you really do feel like you’re performing a different rotation when you switch from single-target to AoE.

So, with those three goals in mind, here are the changes I would make.

Spell changes:

  • CS cooldown increased to 4.5 seconds, no longer shared with HotR
  • HotR still a 3 second cooldown, no longer shared with CS.  HotR now only generates Holy Power if it hits 3+ targets (like Divine Storm). Optionally, also only triggers Grand Crusader on 3+ targets.
  • Judgement now generates 1 Holy Power when it deals damage.
  • SotR becomes an active mitigation finisher which also deals a reasonable amount of damage.  In other words, it’s not the centerpiece of the damage rotation, probably only as strong as CS or J.  However, in this model it gives a significant survivability benefit (for the moment, let’s say 10% block value for 6 seconds).
  • Damage values re-normalized to account for SotR change (CS damage only raised slightly, J/AS increased to fill gap – making fillers and Grand Crusader procs more important).
  • Holy Wrath design reverted to a regular AoE style with cap rather than dealing a fixed amount of damage per cast – it’s no longer intended to be in the single-target rotation.

Otherwise everything else is unchanged – AS still only generates HP on Grand Crusader procs, HW/Cons are weak damage intended for AoE and not single-target.  Note that since we’re designing for 5.0, almost anything is fair game; we can always tweak durations and damages of any of our other spells to make them “fit” better with this new system.  And keep in mind that this is just a rough sketch; I haven’t put in numbers to perfect this or anything, but the basic framework is pretty solid and has a lot of room for variation/tweaking.  But before we talk about that, let’s see how these changes affect the rotation.

Single Targets:

We’d still expect to stick to the CS heartbeat for active mitigation reasons, so it would start with:


Now we consider fillers. We’ll want to use AS and J as much as possible, both for damage and holy power generation. AS should probably hit slightly harder to make sure that AS>J priority is ahead of J>AS priority, but that might happen naturally due to Grand Crusader.  That’s really a numbers problem, anyway, not a conceptual one.  So let’s fill those in, along with SotR when we hit 3 Holy Power:


That last X will get filled with HotR, which serves as a weak single-target filler in addition to its role as our go-to AoE HP generator. I’ll represent a HotR that doesn’t generate HP with “h” to differentiate it from one that does (“H”). So finally, we have:


Note that this isn’t a static rotation because of Grand Crusader procs (CS* below). Those will throw enough variation into the mix that we might end up with a sequence like this:


We can still end up with empty GCDs, but it’s pretty rare. It could happen in the above situation if i delayed J and/or got unlucky with Grand Crusader procs and CS misses:


A good player might be able to eliminate them completely by planning ahead and ordering their fillers well, though there’s always an element of luck there. The short cooldown on HotR guarantees that it’s a rare occurrence, but the damage disparity between HotR and AS/J (which should be large, HotR should hit for ~half as much as CS on a single target, and maybe 1/4 of AS/J) ensures that a player that isn’t paying enough attention to fillers pays a DPS penalty for their inattentiveness.

To quickly list the pros and cons of this rotation:


  • Empty GCDs are rare
  • The 4.5-second “heartbeat” allows for more varied casts, more fillers, and makes those fillers more important
  • Only 5 major abilities in the single-target rotation (CS, AS, J, SotR, HotR)
  • “Free” AoE is minimal, because we cast relatively few HotRs, and when there are multiple targets we’ll be switching to the AoE/HotR-centric rotation anyway (see below)
  • Holy Wrath and Consecrate should be lower damage-per-cast than HotR on a single target, so we rarely want to use them
  • HotR is not a traditional, cooldown-free filler, but it still fills almost all of the empty GCDs we care about. It’s an “intelligent” filler that you can’t spam mindlessly.
  • The system is pretty simple in concept, but there’s a lot of depth and room for variation. As long as the ability damages are fairly disparate, it can be tuned to make filler choice matter.


  • Mana will be less important as a resource without HW and Cons in the single-target rotation; however, this could be compensated for by adjusting JotW mana return and/or ability mana costs
  • Ability damages need to be tuned well enough to keep the rotation complex – if everything hits for about the same amount (like now), then it doesn’t matter what you prioritize.  Luckily, that’s “just numbers,” as I like to say.  It’s as simple as making sure that there’s a clear damage hierarchy (for example, AS > J >> CS/SotR >> HotR)
  • It’s entirely possible that, if J and AS hit very hard, Inq will be a better DPS finisher than SotR.  Remember that in this model, SotR damage is reduced significantly, but it gives a large mitigation boost.  That might be OK though – it gives off-tanks a way to increase their DPS, and gives us a fairly simple “DPS vs. Survivability” choice. We may only choose DPS very rarely (i.e., off-tanking), but it’s there.  Inq will still be the “AoE threat” finisher anyway, so it still has a clear role (unlike the current SotR, which has no other use outside of single-target dps).

Multiple Targets:

HotR becomes the centerpiece of our multi-target rotation (3+ targets). The goal is to use HotR as the heartbeat and Inq as the finisher. It would look something like this:

H-X-H-X-H-Inq- repeat

We may even extend it to four blocks, since Inq lasts 12 seconds (or, again, we could tweak Inq to 10 seconds for prot – anything is fair game). The filler choices would depend on the situation; for 3 targets, you might prioritize AS, then Cons and HW, like so:


For more targets, Cons/HW would be the go-to spells for fillers. The cooldown on one or both of them should be reduced (perhaps to around 9 seconds) to fill the gaps more cleanly.  We could also do this through a talented (spec) effect in the same way as Whirlwind for Fury Warriors; “When your HotR hits 4 or more targets, the cooldown of your Consecration is reduced by 3 seconds.”

The filler choice matters again here – you can adapt to the situation to pump out more damage by recognizing how many targets you’re dealing with and choosing accordingly. In addition, there may be situations where you need to prioritize Judgement to keep mana up, as H/Cons/HW may all still be mana-intensive spells.  There’s a lot of room to tweak things here to make the AoE rotation interesting, while still keeping the simple 3-second HotR heartbeat so that it doesn’t get too complicated.  AoE rotations are generally pretty easy anyway, so there’s no sense over-doing it.


  • Very little overlap between single-target and multi-target rotations. We use a different array of spells, which makes it easier to tune AoE damage independently from single-target damage.
  • A different heartbeat makes it feel like a completely different rotation. We would truly have a distinctly different style for AoE. That’s not the case right now – for AoE we still hit one button every 3 seconds and use one finisher every ~9. The fact that it’s a different button than single-target is meaningless, because it still feels like “same old, same old.” This new rotation would completely upset that paradigm and make it feel like you’re doing something different.
  • There’s little advantage in mixing CS into the AoE rotation to generate lots of HP, because Inquisition doesn’t stack. At best it lets you sneak in a WoG or SotR here or there instead of a filler, trading AoE damage for single-target damage or mitigation. That’s actually good, because it means you have choices.
  • Many more options: Do I want more AoE threat via Cons/HW? More mitigation by using SotR as a finisher instead of Inq? Do I want to adjust my rotation to maximize damage on all targets, or shift some back into single-target damage by using different fillers?


  •  Still very rigid because of the short cooldown on HotR, but maybe that’s OK for AoE; many AoE rotations are a lot simpler than their single-target counterparts
  • In cases where survivability matters, we may very well forego Inq entirely in favor of SotR, depending on the active mitigation implementation. Maybe that’s OK, but if not it wouldn’t be too hard to change things.  We could either:
    • Implement a different active mitigation effect to tack onto Inq via talents. The Inq mitigation effect should be tailored to AoE situations – if SotR gives a flat X% block buff, maybe Inq could give a 5-10 charge buff that acts as a weak absorb shield. If each incoming attack can only use up one charge, and each charge absorbs >X% of a trash mob’s attack but <X% of a boss attack, then it would be ideally suited to AoE but not attractive for single-target.
    • Adjust SotR’s mitigation effect to make it more useful against single targets and less useful against packs; perhaps instead of a flat 10% block, it could give 3-4 charges like the old Holy Shield did.  That way a large pack would just eat through them quickly and make that extra mitigation fairly meaningless.
  • Still not as simple as dropping Death and Decay and going AFK to make a sandwich (I kid, I kid).


This discussion has assumed the current holy power model, where finishers can consume the maximum amount.  However, it’s still viable even if Blizzard changes holy power into a more granular resource (for example, if it stacks to 5 but any ability can only use a maximum of 3 – unfortunately the talent previews suggest this won’t be the case). That allows for some interesting pooling options (pool for SotR-CS-WoG to react to a big burst, for example, or save for Inq-CS-SotR or Inq-AS combinations for more damage). In fact, I’d argue it works even better in the 5-holy-power system because you’re no longer encouraged to sit on 3 Holy Power and wait to react to a damage spike with WoG. I’ve never been a fan of “wait-and-see” gameplay, and WoG’s HP cost encourages that. Being able to pool HP relaxes that restraint somewhat, because you can use 3 and still be ready to react with WoG within 2-3 seconds rather than having to wait 9.

Note also that the average HP generation time can be tuned by tweaking the generators.  That might be desirable depending on exactly how SotR’s active mitigation is implemented.  If SotR’s buff has a short duration, and the design goal is to build HP quickly to try and maximize uptime, HPG could be increased by making AS generate it natively, and/or HotR could continue to proc Grand Crusader even when it’s a single-target filler. If instead SotR grants a longer buff and HP gain needs to be relaxed, Judgement HP generation can be removed in favor of another proc mechanism.


As I said, this is just a rough sketch, and you could tweak a number of things within this framework to get a slightly different result.  But it covers all of the major design goals I outlined at the beginning.  It breaks the 3-second CS cycle that dominates our single-target rotation, even though it preserves some of that ease in the AoE rotation.  By tweaking the damage values and introducing HotR as a weak single-target filler, fillers gain more importance and choosing the right one at the right time grants a more significant benefit than it does in our current system.  And it creates a clear differentiation between our single-target and AoE rotations, such that they feel and play differently from one another.

This isn’t the only way to do it, of course.  I’ve suggested other systems in the past that stick with the 3-second CS model, like a system where CS can trigger a proc that increases the next HotR’s physical damage by 400%.  That would break the CS cycle by replacing some CS casts with HotR, breaking up the monotony.  And I’m sure that others can and will suggest different systems.  But out of all of the ones I’ve seen, so far I’m happiest with the one I’ve presented here, because it seems to hit all the major design goals while keeping things fairly simple and not introducing too many extra procs to keep track of.

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5 Responses to Brainstorms in the Mists: Our 5.0 Rotation

  1. Ryan says:

    The original 4.5 sec CS model was fun to learn. My early problems were getting it tight and keeping threat. With the new threat
    system I would enjoy going back to the more involved rotation. It is partly why I like my enhance shaman so much. There are many choices and it matters which one you choose.
    I also like the ideas about SotR and the active mitigation you would get out of it. I hope something like this article happens.

  2. Saltycracker says:

    I like the 4.5 sec CS model as it feels a little slower paced, less spammy and feels like more of a thinking man’s rotation; I fear that with too many HP generators (CS, J, AS procs) the rotation would feel too proccy, and you would end up needing to stack some hit/expertise to smooth out your HP generation and end up losing out on avoidance stats on gear. I don’t think this would translate well to tanks in lower gear levels and in LFD/LFR. Just my 2 cents.

    Another idea would be to get a HP refund if your holy shield charge mechanic expires with charges left. You could get a 1HP refund, but some is better than nothing. It could smooth out single target HP generation, while AOE tanking wouldn’t suffer due the charges getting most likely eaten up by multiple mobs.

    I’m also scratching my head on how to translate these ideas to tanks without the talent system we have in place right now. A new player can now in theory go down the tree and look and say “Oh this does this, and I probably want to cast this A before B” . Just picking nits, but all great ideas Theck!

  3. Angelflavor says:

    At blizzcon greg said that right now Paladins new ability for MoP is Blinding Shield(subject to change). Do you think this will be a better Holy Power ability for Prot’s AoE rotation for your proposal? Or should this be worked in as part of the rotation?

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