Holy How-To #2 – Spells and Abilities

Welcome to my Holy How-To for PVE Paladins. This is the second of what I hope to be a great many posts aimed at helping holy paladins succeed at PVE content. I will focus primarily on max-level talent specs, glyphs, enchants, gems and the like, but I hope to touch on levelling content and advice as well.

Today’s post or, more accurately, today’s novel, is about what our role is in PVE content as holy paladins and how to fulfill it. That’s to say, it’s about keeping the people around you alive long enough so that your group or raid can survive the incoming damage long enough to down the boss.

“But Kurn,” you say, “I already know how to heal! I use Flash of Light for small heals, Holy Light for big heals and Holy Shock when I move!”

And that’s a start, young padawan. But it’s quite a bit more than just that.

While playing my paladin, I have healed every instance since Scarlet Monastery. Zul’Farrak, Sunken Temple, Blackrock Depths, LBRS, Strat UD, Strat Live, UBRS, Dire Mauls East, West and North, Zul’Gurub, AQ20 and Molten Core, plus all the BC instances (barring Zul’Aman and anything beyond three attempts at Kalecgos in Sunwell), and all the Wrath instances and raids to date. I heal. A lot.


I’m trying to tell you that I started healing instances at level 35 or thereabouts.

“Again, so?”

So, this post is going to be about healing instances — dungeons and raids. I have been healing instances for a very, very long time. I’m not the best healer there ever was or ever will be and I’m not trying to toot my own horn. What I AM trying to impress upon you is that you start to learn habits while healing. These habits can be good or bad and they can be static or they can change. The good ones are the subtleties of healing. They are the things that become glaringly obvious when you’ve been doing it for a long time, that you never considered when you started. They are the very essence of what makes a healer good or great. These intangibles are basically your healing instincts. And your instincts will rely on your knowledge of your class abilities. That’s why, even though I’m a pretty good holy paladin, I am NOT the best resto shammy, resto druid, holy or disc priest.

Would you believe, the other day, I ran regular Utgarde Keep on my 72 disc priest and was WELL past the second boss before I remembered I had the ability to use Penance? It’s because I’m not familiar with the abilities. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what a disc priest is capable of or how they should be used. It means that I don’t have the instincts yet to use Penance as my go-to heal. I was using Flash Heal. Why? It’s a 1.5 second cast quick, small heal. Guess what? So’s Flash of Light. My holy paladin instincts were interfering with my ability to play the priest.

So what we’re going to look at today, after all of that preamble, is our class abilities that we should be using while healing. It’s time to get a good hold of your holy paladin instincts and we’ll talk a bit about what instincts you’ll develop in a future post. You’ve got to learn to walk before you can run and your instincts take a bit of time to develop anyways.

The first thing that you need to do in order to start to develop your instincts is be aware of what all your spells do.


(in alphabetical order)

Avenging Wrath
Beacon of Light
Divine Favor
Divine Illumination
Divine Intervention
Divine Plea
Divine Protection
Divine Sacrifice/Divine Guardian
Divine Shield
Flash of Light
Hand of Freedom
Hand of Protection
Hand of Sacrifice
Hand of Salvation
Holy Light
Holy Shock
Judgement of Light/Judgement of Wisdom
Lay on Hands
Sacred Shield

That’s a lot more than just “one button” that many people mock us for using. That vile piece of slander dates back to pre-BC WoW where we really did just cast Flash of Light 90% of the time. Let’s split these spells and abilities up into “this heals people” (heals) and “this is helpful but pressing it doesn’t add to someone’s health immediately” (buffs), talk about each of the abilities and then we’ll have a look at more practical examples of paladin healing.


Flash of Light – You know when people say “haha, pallies don’t run out of mana!”? They say that because even if we do run dangeously low on mana (which is fairly rare, admittedly), we can almost always toss out a Flash of Light. This is our cheapest heal, it’s our smallest heal and it’s our fastest castable heal at 1.5 seconds (before haste). If you need to heal someone for a little bit of damage, this is what you choose.

Holy Light – This is the big ol’ heal. This is the heal you throw out when the tank is taking obscene amounts of damage. It’s the heal that can crit for 20,000. It’s also our most expensive heal and our longest castable heal, with a base casting time of 2.5 seconds (before haste and Light’s Grace).

Holy Shock – This is a smaller heal, around the same level as Flash of Light. It’s also on a 6 second cooldown, unless you’re glyphed for it, in which case that’s a 5 second cooldown. The awesome part is that Holy Shock is instant and, in conjunction with the Infusion of Light talent, can proc an instant Flash of Light as well, which leads to a wee bit less panic when your tank is somewhat suicidal and pulls when you’re not ready. :P

Lay on Hands – Properly specced and glyphed, Lay on Hands has an 11 minute cooldown. This, as the tooltip indicates, heals your target for your entire maximum health pool. It can also crit. (When my guild killed Vashj for the first time, in Burning Crusade, I threw out a Lay on Hands on our sole remaining tank. It crit for 15,000. The tank lived, Vashj died, the guild rejoiced.) It’s also an instant-cast heal, so it’s an extremely viable option if your target is out of range and you’re spending time running over to get in range of them and they’ll die if you don’t throw something at them NOW.


Sacred Shield – Poor Sacred Shield. It was only introduced in Wrath of the Lich King and it’s already been nerfed. Previously, we had no limit to the number of people we could cast Sacred Shield on. Now, it’s one shield per paladin and no, it doesn’t stack. Sacred Shield is cast on a target and lasts 30 seconds or 60 seconds, depending on your talents. It does not work like Power Word: Shield. PW:S will absorb damage for as long as it’s up. Sacred Shield, during that 30 or 60 second duration, will occasionally proc a damage absorption effect that is based on your spellpower. It is NOT constantly active, it must proc from damage and cannot occur more than every 6 seconds (or 4 seconds with 4-piece T8). Still, it’s mitigation, albeit unpredictable mitigation. Plus, if you have Infusion of Light (and you should have 2/2 in that talent!), any Flash of Light cast on any target with anyone’s Sacred Shield on them will cause a heal-over-time (HoT) effect on the target (which continues even if the shield fades) for 12 seconds. Over the course of that 12 seconds, every second will apply a tick of the HoT, the entire duration of which totals 100% of the Flash of Light’s heal.

Confused yet?

If I heal someone with Sacred Shield for, say, 6000 with Flash of Light, they will then receive a HoT. The HoT will tick every second for 12 seconds for 500 health each tick. 500 x 12 = 6000. This effect is doubled by 4-piece T9. (Which I loved and was probably the only good thing about Tier 9.)

Beacon of Light – Beacon is, in my opinion, either completely useless or the most overpowered spell in the universe. It depends largely on the encounter. Here’s how it works. The target who receives your beacon will receive a mirror of every heal you cast on someone within a 60 yard range of them. That’s right. They can be completely out of your range, as long as someone you’re healing is within 60 yards of them. Since our max range is 40 yards, it’s conceivable (although unlikely) that you will be in a situation where your beacon target is 100 yards from you; 60 yards from someone you’re healing, who is 40 yards from you, resulting in a 100 yard heal. I should note, though, that it’s not quite every heal. Beacon mirrors the following: Flash of Light, Holy Light, Holy Shock and Lay on Hands. It does NOT mirror the Flash of Light HoT, it does NOT mirror the heals from Glyph of Holy Light, nor does it mirror Judgement of Light. Just *your* casts of FoL, HL, HS and LoH. Further, there is a brief delay between the successful spellcast on your healing target before it gets mirrored. This lag can be, in my experience, up to a full half-second, which can be extremely detrimental to your tank’s health. ;)

Judgement of Light/Wisdom – Apart from the 15% spell haste you get from judging, these are important debuffs to put up on the boss. Everyone who attacks the boss has health, so the priority is getting Judgement of Light up there and keeping it there. Since protection and retribution paladins use judgements basically on cooldown, one of those should probably keep Judgement of Light up there. Not everyone attacking the boss has mana, so Judgement of Wisdom is the second priority. If you have two meleeing paladins, they can split the two judgements and you can pick something to judge every 60 seconds or so, since both will be up on the main target at all times, courtesy of your fellow paladins. Otherwise, be prepared to judge every 20-30 seconds to ensure you keep the debuff up. I’m notoriously bad at this on healing-intensive fights. But I do judge every minute or so in order to maintain my Judgements of the Pure.

Cleanse – I’m not entirely sure why healers get stuck with the job of cleansing and decursing people (that’s a whole other post for another time) but hey, paladins can use one button (Cleanse) to remove any Magic effect, Poison or Disease. Use it. Obviously, your priority should be healing people, but try to remove dispellable debuffs from yourself and your tank as well as keeping people alive. In many cases, removing the dispellable debuff is key to maintaining people’s health, but paladins are also generally able to “brute force” heal through debuffs.

Hand of Sacrifice – Here we go, cooldowns! Hand of Sacrifice transfers 30% of damage from the target you cast it on to you. Best used in conjunction with Divine Shield. If that’s not available, Divine Protection is useful to make sure you don’t keel over and die. ;)

Divine Sacrifice/Divine Guardian – Sort of a raid-wide cooldown that transfers a ton of damage to your tender hide. Plate armor notwithstanding, you’re not a tank. Again, best used with Divine Shield or Divine Protection, although it APPEARS that you shouldn’t die as a result of using this talent. Environmental effects and actual direct damage can still kill you, though.

Hand of Protection – Ah, the old BOP! Previously, this was known as Blessing of Protection and everyone called it “BOP”. It got a new name in Wrath, because, as a Blessing, it would overwrite things like kings and wisdom (since one blessing per paladin can be active on a target). Do not try to get me to call it “HOP”. I tend to giggle insanely. This is an excellent, fantastic, outstanding ability that all paladins have, but if you’re speccing into prot as a sub-spec, you’ll want to get the reduced cooldown for this ability in Guardian’s Favor, just because it’s that good. It stops physical damage. It removes bleed and blind effects. Granted, the person can’t physically attack for the duration, but that doesn’t stop a caster!

Most notably, in terms of Wrath content, this ability can (and should!) be used to remove Gormok’s impales from the tanks before Dreadscale and Acidmaw come out, in the Trial of the Crusader. It can also be used to protect players from Anub’arak’s impale while they’re being pursued in TOC as well. Note that for most cases, BOP will drop the target off the aggro list, but that’s not the case for Anub’arak.

Hand of Freedom – Removes movement-impairing effects AND prevents new ones from being dropped on you? Awesomesauce. I find a ton of uses for this (although Paralytic Toxin in TOC is not one of them) and will often cast it on myself. Because people can only have one “hand” spell active on them at once, a quick way to drop Hand of Protection off a tank is to toss them Hand of Freedom immediately after BOPping them. For example, on the Phase 1/2 Gormok/Worms transition, I BOP a tank and then toss them Hand of Freedom immediately. That way, the bleed effect is gone, but they didn’t have to go looking for BOP in their buffs to right-click it off. (Lazy tanks… But I digress!)

Hand of Salvation – Great to toss up on overeager DPS who seem to grab aggro. I admit, I almost never use this.

Divine Illumination – 50% cost on all your spells for 15 seconds. Excellent. Also, fantastic awesomeness when you have 2-piece T10.

Divine Favor – Guaranteed crit. While I find this is less important nowadays for, say, mana regen purposes, I think I use it more in Wrath than I ever did before. I’m constantly hitting this before a pull, then chasing my tank in and hitting Holy Shock, proccing an instant Flash of Light, so I can heal while on the move.

Divine Plea – The good news: 25% of your maximum mana is returned over 15 seconds. 1 minute cooldown. The bad news: Healing output reduced by 50%. This means that you should always endeavour to offset this reduction with something. As a paladin in 2-piece T10, I do the following:

– Divine Plea/Divine Illumination at about 60-70% mana
– Divine Plea/Talisman of Resurgence trinket when I get to about 50% mana (or when Divine Plea is up, whichever comes second)
– Divine Plea/Avenging Wrath on the next DP cooldown, if I need it. If not, I try to wait for Divine Illumination to come back up.

Avenging Wrath – 20% bonus damage… and healing. Sweet deal, pop it to either offset Divine Plea or on an enrage phase to eke out that extra healing.

Divine Protection – Gotta love the pally version of Shield Wall. 50% damage reduction for the duration? Yes, please! Especially because Divine Shield is on a 5 minute cooldown, with Forbearance only lasting two minutes, Divine Protection is NOT a bad alternative.

Divine Shield – The infamous bubble, which is breakable by a warrior’s Shattering Throw and a priest’s Mass Dispel. You can bubble out of damn near anything, but not Cyclone. You are invulnerable for 12 seconds and can stand in fire for that whole time if you like. It’s awesome. This is your personal “OMFG!!!” button.

Divine Intervention – Ah, good ol’ DI. This spell allows you to make someone else invulnerable, taking them out of combat for three minutes. The downside is that it kills you. The bonus is that you don’t take durability damage. This is great wipe protection, but so far, I really don’t see as much legitimate use for DI as wipe protection in Wrath as I did in Burning Crusade. Mostly, people use it to save themselves from a repair bill or to prevent the need to run back.

“Kurn, that is a ton of information.”

Yeah, I know.

“No, really. That’s a lot of buttons and abilities to use. And a whole lot of explanation about each.”

Yep. I know, I’m long-winded.

“Be honest, now. Am I really expected to know all of this?!”

Well, there’s not going to be a written exam or anything, but every instance you heal should be considered a practical test of your abilities. It’s true, you won’t use most of them most of the time, but you WILL use ALL of them at some point. The trick is knowing that they’re available to you so that you know when to use them.

“Geez, that’s… hang on, that’s like, holy crap, that’s 20 spells, Kurn.”

Kind of shocking, isn’t it? We’re not the easy class everyone makes us out to be. It’s really easy to use Flash of Light, Holy Light and Holy Shock. That’s enough to keep people alive. It is not enough to perform at the levels that being a paladin allows. It’s not enough to heal through poisons when you COULD cleanse them. It’s not enough to keep spamming Holy Light on a tank after Gormok’s done with them when you could easily BOP them. You know? It’s about the limits of what the paladin class can do and how close you get to those limits.

“Okay, smartass, how close do YOU get to those limits?”

Probably not nearly as close as I should. But I like to think that, when I’m on top of my game, I can nudge those limits a bit.

“So what do you do in a typical fight?”

Good question. Here’s what I do, as a raiding paladin, on a typical boss fight in Icecrown Citadel. Let’s say Saurfang.

I am typically assigned to the active tank, as most holy paladins would be. I toss up Sacred Shield on the tank or the off-tank, depending on if I have another holy paladin healing with me and who they shield. Then I toss a Flash of Light to begin the HoT ticking, so that it’s ticking as everyone gets into position. If there’s going to be a lot of movement right at the start (there isn’t on Saurfang), I’ll cast Divine Favor and cast a Holy Shock right as the tank gets smacked for the first time. That procs my instant Flash of Light. I’ll watch for more incoming damage as I settle into position and toss up the FoL if needed as I’m still moving. Otherwise, I’ll toss it when I arrive at my position. If I have a spare global, I’ll judge. If I don’t have a spare global, I wait until the tank is stable, then judge.

Then, the Holy Light bombing begins.

Raid buffed, I have 42199 mana. In raids, if you wait to react to the damage your tank takes, by the time you get a cast off, your tank is almost surely dead. You used to be able to heal reactively on a main tank, in many cases back in BC (except Tidewalker. Tidewalker was a bitch.), but through most of Wrath, I just throw the heals. I can afford to. My mana pool is huge, I have Divine Plea and three separate ways to offset its healing reduction. I can even melee for mana, thanks to Seal of Wisdom. So I bomb Holy Light. If the tank isn’t taking an obscene amount of damage, I’ll switch to Flash of Light for a bit, refreshing the HoT, then go back to Holy Lights after.

“What, no Beacon?”

On a fight like Marrowgar, yes, I will have a specific Beacon target as well, and will keep that refreshed. But on Saurfang, only one person is taking the majority of the damage, until he starts casting Marks of the Champion. That’s when Beacon comes in handy. I will toss a Beacon of Light on the first person with the Mark of the Champion. Then I’ll return to healing the active tank. Since I usually heal with another holy paladin, he’ll take the second Mark with his beacon. By the time we get a third Mark of the Champion, I’ll switch off the tanks entirely and focus on healing that third Mark directly and, by virtue of Beacon, I will continue to heal the first Mark. If we get a fourth, my fellow paladin will do to the fourth what I do to the third, and maintain his Beacon on the second target.

Throughout this, I judge about once a minute. I try to keep the FoL HoT up and my Sacred Shield up as well. I also try really hard not to get nailed by avoidable damage.

“Uh. Okay. Is it just me or are you juggling a hot, a shield, a beacon, judgements of the pure AND monitoring the health of the raid? Plus not standing in bad stuff?”

Not just you. That’s what I do. That’s what ANY holy paladin needs to do — keep track of your buffs, keep your targets up and don’t die in the fire/void zone/poison.

“How do you keep all that going?!”

I cheat.


Okay, I don’t cheat. But I use a mod. It’s called clcbpt. Bask in its glorious, er, glory!

This is heavily modified. I wanted the FoL HoT to be green (signifying a heal), I wanted Sacred Shield to be yellow (because it IS yellow) and I wanted beacon to be pink so that it stood out. Judgements of the Pure is blue because, well, I like blue. I also wanted the bars to be much bigger than they are by default because I need to be able to notice them. I don’t track anyone else’s hots or shields or beacons via this mod, either, though it’s absolutely possible and probably useful.

I rely HUGELY on clcbpt to help me keep track of my buffs, particularly Judgements of the Pure, because that doesn’t show up on my Grid. (I’ve got Grid configured to show me if anyone’s Sacred Shield is on a target, if one of MY FoL HoTs is on a target, if anyone’s Beacon is up on a target.) I tried using PowerAuras for the JotP buff, but when I found clcbpt, I stopped using PA and now all my information on buffs and duration is right there, in front of me. It’s amazing. I can pull 90+% uptime on any of my buffs.

So that mod makes life about five thousand times easier.

Having said that, if you heal enough, you’ll get a feeling when it’s time to cast a buff again. You’ll have the feeling you need to judge soon or cast Sacred Shield or Beacon of Light soon. But I’m of the mind that the more information is easily visible to you, the better.

Whew, okay. I think that sums up the vast majority of our heals and buffs, plus there’s clcbpt to help you juggle everything’s uptime. Go out and practice a bit, try to make sure you’re using your abilities to the fullest. Make sure to keep your judgements up, even if you outgear the content and don’t “need” 15% spell haste. Bind your Cleanse key to something you’ll remember to hit. A big part of healing instincts consists of muscle memory, so that’s why we’ll talk a bit about addons and keybindings next time.

Questions or comments? Hit me up! :)

6 Replies to “Holy How-To #2 – Spells and Abilities”

  1. Wow. Um. WOW. *falls over from information overload*

    I’m so glad I’ve got 60 levels to slowly acclimate myself to this stuff…

  2. This is what I tried to tell the naysayers. Healing as a paladin isn’t “lol two button spam,” it’s incredibly versatile and complex. I found the names of things confusing initially. I’m still trying to learn and get better at it. The other day we were doing Sindragosa and my giant moonkin ass got stuck in an iceblock (my main is a druid, the pally’s a sideline unfortunately).

    “Look at that!” I exclaimed. “I have sacred shield. That’s so nice.” Our holy paladin had slapped SS on me and tossed a FoL before I’d been iceblocked so that the HoT would be ticking. I don’t think I would’ve even thought to do that.

    Just like you said, you can heal pretty well with the “basic” tools. But knowing the ins and outs of the others are what separate the holy paladins with finesse from the pack.

  3. Vidyala – That was an excellent paladin who dropped SS and FoL on you. Props to them. I don’t think I’ve ever done that myself! But maybe I’ll try that next time, assuming I don’t have Unchained Magic. :)

    The thing about paladin healing is that you can adjust to it pretty easily. You quickly subsume most of the knowledge required for playing very well, it’ll just take some practice is all. At this point, it’s just a no-brainer to me to judge, beacon, shield, etc. Once you have that set in your mind, it’s all about using your main heals, but part of you is on auto-pilot, essentially, judging, keeping up your beacon, etc.

    Seriously, though, good move by your holy pally. I’ll do that on myself if nothing else next time. :)

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