Protection Paladin Basics: The Abilities

There are whispers in our guild about an alt run coming up in the next week or two, and in preparation, I have been slowly working on leveling my paladin from 80 to 85. For some reason, I’ve struggled more in re-adjusting my thinking this expansion as opposed to the BC to Wrath transition. I blame it on the way things changed: BC to Wrath we were completely redesigned from the ground up, but this time, we’ve had some design changes while leaving the core abilities pretty much the same.

I finally figured it out by wiping my keybinds, putting some bars on my screen, and grouping up my abilities into handy categories which I gradually adjusted as I figured out what to use when. This brief introduction to the redesigned paladin abilities is geared towards those leveling or pursuing entry-level dungeons.

The Rotation

Currently the paladin rotation, commonly referred to as 939, is built around 3 groups of abilities: a core ability (3) that you cast every other cooldown and which builds holy power, an alternate filler ability (9) that you cast every other cooldown, and a finishing ability (9) which replaces your filler when you reach 3 stacks of holy power.

Filler –> Core –> Filler –> Core –>Filler–>Core–>Finisher–>Core–>Filler–>Core–>Filler–>Core–>Finisher

Core Abilities

Which core ability you will user for an encounter depends entirely on whether you have a single or multi-target situation. Crusader Strike (CS) will be used for single target scenarios while Hammer of the Righteous (HotR) is the ability of choice in multi-target battles. There is no reason to switch between the two unless the number of mobs in the encounter has changed.

Filler Abilities

Each of our filler abilities is set on a different, and sometimes lengthy, cooldown. Judgement should be your first filler, and will be cast every other “filler” slot. Avenger’s Shield (AS) and Consecration (Con) have much longer cooldowns, and for the second “filler” slot must be alternated. So, in a normal scenario, your rotation will look like this:


Now, what about if you specced into Avenger’s Strike? Or maybe you just fumbled the fingers a bit, and now you have Con/AS on GCD and it’s time to do something! Never fear Holy Wrath (HW) can fill up that whole for you.

The Finisher

When you reach 3 Holy Power (and get to level 81) you’ve got three options for draining your holy bar. Shield of the Righteous (SotR) is never, ever a bad choice. It hits like a freight-truck. However, if you’re tanking a pack of mobs Inquisition can be a better choice as it will provide a nice damage boost to your upcoming Con/AS. Word of Glory (WoG) is more situational, and will depend on what you’re doing at the time. If you’re soloing, don’t hesitate to give yourself a heal in a tight spot. If you’re in a dungeon, check your threat first, as WoG will put you behind.

Everything Else

I’ve tried to group up the rest of our bajillion “regular use” abilities into some kind of coherence. Although we have access to a few more spells than these (notably heals) if I thought it was impractical for you to be using it except as a lark (or in between pulls) I left it off the list.


Now, while I have you captive, I’m going to climb up onto my little soapbox for a minute and give you this nugget of wisdom: Don’t pull with a taunt. A taunt does not generate threat on its own. When no damage has been done to the target all it does is put up a flag that says “sucker over here.” Then when your mage lands 14 crits in a row, you’re outta luck until your taunt comes off cool-down.

Now, if you hadn’t taunted the pull, and instead pulled with an exorcism, you might still lose threat when your mage gets 14 crits in a row; however, 1) your taunt will be readily available to drag that mob back to you, and 2) you will now have an appreciable threat lead because your taunt just gave you pull threat + threat generated by the target you taunted off of. Awesome, huh?

Now, when it comes to taunting you can choose the safe single target method with Hand of Reckoning (HoR) or the “OMIGOD they’re everywhere! Catch them!” multi-target taunt, Righteous Defense (RD). RD is an interesting taunt because it is limited (3 targets) and pulls off of a specific target. So if you have two mobs on your priest and one on your mage, and taunt the one off your mage, the 2 on the priest will continue to ignore you. This mechanic can also get you in trouble in multi-tank situations (raids) where the boss tank has managed to get a straggling add and you choose to use RD gaining you not only the little add, but the boss as well.

Practicing “taunting” targets even while solo is good practice to make sure you are ready to use your taunt when you get tossed into a group situation!

Personal Protection

Keeping yourself alive and generating threat is why there ARE tanks, so make sure you know what you can use to keep yourself alive and well. Your most used personal protection spell will be Divine Protection (DP). It’s down to one minute, so use if often! Lay on Hands (LoH) is still severely limited by time, but it can keep you out of a pickle by maxing out your health. If you don’t need it, feel free to share it with a friend. Hand of Protection has also changed a bit, you no longer get dumped off the threat table, but it only prevents physical damage now.

Some tanks have a better track record with clearing up their own debuffs with Cleanse than others. Most of the time, you don’t have to worry about it too much (I mean, you DO have a healer looking for that stuff) but cleanse is actually pretty darn powerful, and not all classes can tackle all debuffs.

The final option for guarding your back is Ancient Guardian which you gain at L85. It’s much more powerful than Divine Protection, but has the cooldown to match.

Nasty Surprises

Oh, how I always dreamed of having an interrupt. The day is finally here with Rebuke–it’s on a ten-second cooldown, but it’s better than trying to interrupt with Hammer of Justice (HoJ). Hammer of Justice isn’t gonna help much on that next boss fight, but for soloing or trash it can be a good way to keep a mob in place or keep a critter from running despite it’s forever and a day cooldown.

Exorcism has lost some of its flexibility–it’s got a cast time again–but it can be a great way to open a fight. Avenging Wrath (AW/Wings) is likewise a great starter spell giving you a great threat lead.

Hammer of Wrath (HoW) is only available once a mob has reached the last 20% of their life, but it does pretty good damage, and can be neatly fit in between rotation spots.

Turn Evil has limited applications so far this expansion. Not enough zombies, skeletons or ghouls shambling around the countryside!

Other Notables

I threw Divine Shield down here because it is almost purely a solo only spell. Since it protects you from all damage, it also keeps temporarily removes you from the threat table, and should be avoided in the group setting when possible. Divine Guardian is likewise limited, but this time to party or raid settings only since it doesn’t actually prevent any damage you’re taking.

I also thought Holy Radiance was worth a mention. It won’t provide a ton of healing, but for solo projects or just in tight spots, it can help stabilize you and all it cost is a measly GCD.

The Hands

Hands are protection that we can use on ourselves or extend to fellow party/raid members. For ourselves (and our friends) you have Hand of Protection which provides temporary relief from physical damage and Hand of Freedom which frees the target from movement-impairing effects.

Our other hands are primarily for group/raid members. Hand of Salvation lowers a player’s threat on the threat table; while you could potentially need a threat reduction in a raid setting, I’d still stay away from salvation unless you choose to glyph it. Hand of Sacrifice transfers a player’s damage to us, which can make it rather tricky to use. I’d generally suggest have a PP cooldown available to limit the damage you’re already taking if you’re going to shoulder another player’s damage.


I almost neglected this section since auras haven’t changed much, but we’ll go ahead and do a quick recap. Devotion Aura is a solid “base” choice if you’re worried about reducing damage. If you’re soloing or more concerned with threat, feel swap over to Retribution AuraResistance Aura now combines Fire, Frost and Shadow protection and is great when working on spellcasters (assuming you don’t have a holy paladin with Aura Mastery). Use of Concentration Aura will likely be extremely limited if at all, but it can help out your ranged dps/healers. Crusader Aura is still for flying only, and should be removed for any combat scenario.


15 thoughts on “Protection Paladin Basics: The Abilities

  1. Good post, very informative. And timely, too, since I have a new alt that I am levelling protection and was just considering taking into dungeons.

    And yay for Rebuke! I'm really enjoying using it every chance I get on my Holy Paladin; I can only imagine that it would be far more useful to a Prot Pally.

  2. Couple of observations from playing a prot pally as my main:Holy Wrath is a much better filler than consecrate. The damage is all front-loaded instead of over time, and can be used even if you are moving a mob/boss for positioning or kiting purposes so it is much more flexible. The ideal rotation should look like… pull with exorcism, CS/HoR–>AS–>CS/HoR–>Judge–>CS/HoR–>Finisher–>CS/HoR–>AS(If Grand Crusader has procc'd otherwise HW)–>CS/HoR–>Judge–>CS/HoR–>Finisher. Also it is good to keep in mind, since we should be reforging hit/expertise into survivability stats and as of the last hotfix CS/HoR no longer generates Holy Power charges on a miss this rotation will not always give us 3 HoPo requiring a little finessing.As to finishers I have to disagree on Word of Glory… after the initial pull we should almost always have a sufficient threat lead to ignore SotR. Most dps have their own CDs to reduce threat if they are close to pulling from us, otherwise Hand of Salv can help with a DPS that is close to you. Until 4.1 drops with its 20 second CD on WoG that should be getting popped much more than SotR (barring running with a group that significantly outgears you, requiring heavy threat management, or a non-heroic dungeon where your group refuses to pay attention to your marks/kill order.).Finally don't forget about Ardent Defender under CDs, it no longer procs automatically. It will give you a 20% damage reduction any time you pop it, but should be saved until you are low on health as it will save you from a killing blow if you receive one while it is active.

    • <div>Since I was much more concerned with leveling/normal dungeons, I stayed in my comfort zone with consecrate until just last night. For rounding up mobs and the like, I much prefer the DoT on the ground (solo) than an instant cast that I have a harder time judging the edges of. I don't disagree that for dungeoning GC and the HW fill is better; however, it's also not required.</div><div></div><div>Again, with word of glory, it depends on your situation. When I'm nominally geared in competition with other players, I can WoG all night. When I have a player that overgears me to any significant degree (and sometimes it can be quite striking to get a raider in a normal dungeon) then WoG can be problematic. Other times, I just don't need it, so why shouldn't I be contributing to getting the mobs down ASAP?</div><div></div><div>While I appreciate your insight (and the fact that I missed a major cooldown, thank you for that) this is not intended for raiders, or even those running heroics. I did not intend to discuss every possible scenario, or stat considerations, such as gemming, enchanting and reforging, because it's generally cost prohibitive to do those things while turning gear over at such a high rate.</div><div></div><div>I personally always have had a tough time trying to keep things "simple" for those starting out or coming back after a long time, and since I was now one of those, I thought I'd do the post while the experience was fresh!</div>

  3. I only started playing a Prot Pally after Cataclysm and it's amazing for both soloing and dungeons – we have so many hard hitting aoe abilities. I'm in Outland at the moment and I do more damage than the dps most of the time.The tip about pulling with taunt is useful – I'll make sure not to make that mistake.

  4. I like to start my pull with Divine Plea to get 3 holy power to power Inquisition. Then start my pull.

    Also I find it funny that you wiped your keybinds and sorted your abilities. I did the exact same thing.

    • <div>I've been doing that too, as well as popping wings, but only on bosses 🙂 When soloing or trash, I just keep on trucking and moving through my basic rotation.</div><div></div><div>Great minds think alike? I had some really awkward moments there for awhile as I tried to wrap my brain around HotR as an AoE only ability.</div>

  5. On the topic of Hand of Protection, I was under the impression that while it doesn't drop threat, mobs attacking you will decide to attack something else instead. So casting it on a party member is okay, but casting it on yourself while tanking is a good way to wipe. Is it still that way or did I miss a memo? I can't seem to find any information on it, other than it's not listed as a cooldown in the prot pally tanking thread on Elitest Jerks.

    • I was actually hoping someone could confirm / deny that for me before I actually tried it on a fight. I suspect that it can be used only temporarily (i.e. click it off asap), which would still make it a viable protection tool since previously it removed you from the threat table so you had to line up taunts and the like to make use of it.

      • I found it listed under Key Abilities (even though it has a 5 minute CD?) so I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it might not make you lose your targets. I'll see if I can test it out tonight while doing daily quests with someone. I'll gather up a bunch of mobs and pop it to see if they target my partner.

        • Cooldown is five minutes unless specced into Guardian's Favor (in the retribution tree). <div></div><div>Wowwiki had this to say about threat during use:</div><div>Players protected lose aggro while under its duration. Tanking paladins can use this as a last resort method of aggro management, or because of a player's inability to perform melee actions through the shield, an effective way to reign in a melee dps class who is unable to control their own aggro. The threat reduction only lasts for the duration of the hand however, so a tanking paladin needs to make sure to generate enough threat to keep aggro when the hand expires.</div>

          • I tested it last night and while I did not actually lose any threat, the mobs did indeed turn and attack my boyfriend's character. So macroing it with a cancelaura would probably be best.

  6. HoP/Divine Shield on the tank is a good way to clear nasty debuffs (Mangle from Magmaw)If used quickly with a cancelaura macro it can be very useful.

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