Admittedly, I haven’t kept up on all kinds of patch notes in the last several months, but several of the changes noticed in the 5.4 PTR struck me as really interesting.

My instinct is to cringe and brace for impact whenever I see “Paladin” in the patch notes or the noted datamined changes. Rarely when you see a class name are they actually buffing the class. It’s usually some form of nerf.

So what are these changes that I strongly suspected would be nerfs?

1) Eternal Flame initial healing has been reduced by 30%. Boom. Nerf.

2) Sacred Shield stuff that is unlikely to actually be implemented on live. Would have been potentially interesting but probably still would feel like a nerf compared to current Sacred Shield.

3) Sanctified Wrath: Holy: now also increases the critical strike chance of Holy Shock by 20%. Buff!

4) Selfless Healer stacks now also work on Divine Light in addition to Flash of Light. Buff to this talent, no question.

5) Mastery: Illuminated Healing no longer activates from periodic healing effects. HUGE, HUGE NERF. (They’ve mentioned that this really is aimed at Eternal Flame and level 90 talents won’t be punished by this.)

6) Divine Plea no longer reduces the amount of healing done by 50%. A long-overdue change, in my opinion.

After reading the post by Rygarius in the official forums, you can better understand what on earth the devs are thinking here. What you can glean from the post is that too many Holy paladins were taking Eternal Flame, so they nerfed it (directly and then indirectly due to the fact that mastery shields will no longer proc off periodic healing effects) in the hopes of people taking some of the other talents at the level 45 mark in the tree. They admit that they don’t like the new version of Sacred Shield and that they will likely revert it. But they buffed Selfless Healer to give people what they think is a viable choice at that talent level. I’m also certain that they’ll screw more with Sacred Shield to ensure that prot paladins don’t ALL take the shield.

Blizzard has said, time and again, that if a talent is “mandatory”, the choice in the situation has been removed. As such, all three choices should be viable and should be able to be swapped around. That’s likely why Sanctified Wrath got a boost to Holy Shock’s crit, so that it would be better represented next to Holy Avenger and Divine Purpose. It seems as though Holy Avenger is getting a lot of use in fights with high-damage phases. Pop Holy Avenger, throw out a Holy Shock, gaining 3 Holy Power, then Light of Dawn, then Holy Radiance, gaining 3 HP, then Light of Dawn, etc, while Divine Purpose is better for fights without a ton of incoming damage… or for those who aren’t so good at remembering to hit a cooldown but still want a benefit. It seems that Blizzard devs felt that Sanctified Wrath could use a bit more incentive for holy paladins.

So I’m unsure that Sacred Shield will remain the way it is on live realms today. As to Eternal Flame, they said that because they’re nerfing it to no longer work with mastery, they’ll probably bump the initial healing back up, but that there are no plans to revert the change in how it works with the mastery, because it’s just too dominant for the holy population. They said, though, that if it’s needed, they’ll compensate by buffing healing elsewhere, because they think holy healing is at a good level, even with all the healing people were doing through Eternal Flame and the mastery shields it created. They’re not nerfing it because holy paladins are too good — they’re nerfing the talent to make it less attractive because there’s basically not another compelling choice for holy paladins on that tier.

I’m really glad we got a blue post about it, to be honest. It sucks to try to guess why something’s happened, so props to Blizzard for being so open about what they feel is a holy paladin problem. I strongly suspect we’ll see even more information about the level 45 talents in the coming weeks.