Retribution Leveling Pre-Cataclysm

Have you decided to level a Ret Paladin before Cataclysm launches?  I did.  I figured making another Retribution Paladin would get me used to the 4.0.1 changes before Cataclysm went live.  I am not regretting it one bit.

This time around I opted for a Dwarf Paladin, with Herbalism and Inscription as my professions.  If you have read my leveling guides before, you would know I opt to skip leveling professions until at max level, because it is quicker and easier at that point.  Not doing that this time around.  Leveling both as I go, just to shake things up a bit!

What I will try to cover here are basics for leveling.  With barely a month left before Cataclysm launches, if you are starting a Ret, or finishing up one, speed is the key.  So let’s get going!


Let’s start with the basics, and cover gearing.  Gearing your Ret Paladin was very important in WoW pre-Patch 4.0.1.  The game in its current state gives more importance to our attacks and abilities, thus requiring less from our gear.  Basically, we do so much damage now, that keeping gear current isn’t quite as important.

In my experience, I have been able to easily get by with gear 10 levels under my current level.  EASILY!  Our attacks are so strong, that stacking an additional 1 or 2 strength makes no difference.  Focus on leveling, and let gear come.  Use quest rewards, and only stop by the AH when you have to make a pit-stop at one of the major cities.

Here are some gearing tips:

  • NO Mail or Leather Gear at Level 50 and up.  [Plate Specialization].
  • Plate, Mail, and Leather gear okay at levels 40-49 if stats are appropriate.
  • Mail and Leather gear okay at levels 1-39 if stats are appropriate.
  • Every piece of gear must have strength in some way or form.  Strength and Agility or solid Strength is best, followed by Strength and Intellect.
  • Gear of the Monkey and of Agility should be avoided.
  • Heirloom Gear – Get as many pieces as you can.  Less gear to worry about replacing and boosts XP earned.


I started out keeping all of my gear enchanted with the best enchants available.  Soon, I realized that while the enchants helped, I was still doing large amounts of damage without them, so I basically stopped enchanting my gear all together.  The only exception I will make is Crusader enchant for your weapon.  Bloodied Arcanite Reaper is preferrable.  When it comes to heirloom gear, you have two needs:

  • Crusader enchant for weapon
  • +3 or +4 stats to chest

Bottom line: No need to enchant gear.  Crusader on weapon and you are set!


When you get to the point of being able to gem gear while leveling, stick with pure strength gems.  Best bang for your buck, and gives you more of the best stat for Ret Paladin leveling.

Pulling Mobs

Pulling mobs is very different with Patch 4.0.1.  Previously, the best pulling mechanic was Hand of Reckoning.  It was cheap, and dealt a ton of damage.  Now it deals zero damage.  Ret Paladins currently have 3 true pulling abilities, and I will list them in order from best to worst:

Exorcism – While Exorcism is tops, it is not the most commonly used.  Judgement will be the most common pulling tool.  Exorcism is your best option only when Art of War procs.  It is instant, costs no mana, and deals 100% more damage.  Could you use it to pull via casting?  Sure, but I follow a policy of little to no downtime.  Stopping to cast Exorcism for every pull is time wasted, considering every attack following afterward is strong enough to kill it in the same amount of time.

All that said, if you are attempting a line-of-sight pull, this is your best option.

Judgement – Our most efficient pull when Exorcism is not Art of War procced.  This is a great attack to use when running in, and can be enhanced via Ret Talents.

Hand of Reckoning – Still useful for pulling mobs.  When attempting to lure more mobs into your AoE slaughter, sometimes Judgement and Exorcism may be on cooldown.  Use HoR to bring more mobs to their doom!  I am still using this a ton.

DPS Rotations

DPS rotations for Ret Paladins while leveling is a little tricky.  They don’t really follow end-game FCFS, so take whatever you know about that and throw it out the window…at least for early levels.

At level 10, we opt into Retribution and immediately get Templar’s Verdict.  While this is a hard hitting attack, you may not be using it much less than you would think.  I have realized the best way to kill mobs is still in packs, but instead saving Holy Power for TV, I opt to save it for Word of Glory instead.  More on that later.

  • Levels 1 to 9 – Crusader Strike > Judgement
  • Levels 9 to 17 – Templar’s Verdict > Crusader Strike > Judgement
  • Levels 18 to 23 – Templar’s Verdict > Crusader Strike > Judgement > Exorcism
  • Levels 24 to 27 – Templar’s Verdict > Crusader Strike > Judgement > Consecrate > Exorcism
  • Levels 28 – Templar’s Verdict > Crusader Strike > Judgement > Holy Wrath > Consecrate > Exorcism
  • Levels 29 to 45 – Templar’s Verdict > Exorcism > Crusader Strike > Judgement > Holy Wrath > Consecrate
  • Levels 46 to 80 – Templar’s Verdict > Hammer of Wrath > Exorcism > Crusader Strike > Judgement > Holy Wrath > Consecrate

Exorcism before level 29 – Because we cannot spec into Art of War until level 29, Exorcism won’t really be a part of you arsenal (if you are optimizing attacks correctly).  This shouldn’t really be used unless line of sight pulling.

Exorcism after level 29 – Top priority behind Templar’s Verdict ONLY when procced by Art of War.  Otherwise don’t use it.  Exorcism hits like a truck at all levels.  Stacking Holy Power to get to Templar’s Verdict does not take priority like it does in end-game.  Use Exorcism as often as it is up.

Hammer of Wrath – Hard hitting bomb at mob HP 20% or less.  Have to hit it quick, because mobs will be dying fast.

Divine Storm – Not listed because this either takes 100% top priority in AoE packs or not at all.  Completely useless for single target encounters.  TV is the obvious choice there.

The only other comment I have here is whether to kill off a mob with Exorcism or Templar’s Verdict.  If you are about to kill a mob, and have 2 Holy Power stacked and an Exorcism with Art of War…finish the mob with TV, then immediately pummel the next enemy with Exorcism.  See, if you do it in the reverse order, you lose the Exorcism, and then have to go in and add one more Holy Power before using Templar’s Verdict.  It’s all about the quickest way to kill mobs.

If the mob had lots of HP left, obviously use Exo first, then finihs up with TV or save it for the next mob.  You will constantly find yourself choosing between Exorcism and Templar’s Verdict as the finishing move.  Massive damage either way, I just choose to go the route that keeps me moving the quickest and mobs dying fastest.

Templar’s Verdict 1HP/2HP/3Hp

When leveling, it is best to use Templar’s Verdict at 3 Holy Power.  If you kill a mob before you get to 3 Holy Power, that’s okay.  Save the HP and move on to the next mob, add 1 or 2 more HP, then finish with TV.

There will be times where the mob has low health and you have everything on cooldown except Templar’s Verdict.  With only one or two Holy Power stacks, you can either finish the mob with a less powerful TV, or save them for the next mob.  I have done both, though I prefer to save.  If I feel like it would be quicker to use TV, then I don’t hesitate to blow my Holy Power.

AoE Killing

Pull mobs into packs as often as you can and AoE them down.  Use Holy Wrath and Consecrate often, and let Seal of Righteousness and Seals of Command do the rest of the work.  The only question that remains is whether or not to use Divine Storm.  You’d think that would be a no-brainer, right up until you realize we have no self-healing attacks or judgements, as we did prior to 4.0.1.  Divine Storm is our only healing attacks.

So when you are getting pounded by mobs, you have two choices:

  • Use Divine Storm and gain marginal health back, but deal good damage.  May have to stop to Flash of Light.
  • Use Word of Glory and gain large health back, continuing with regular attacks and never worry about side-healing.

Personally, I find that it is usually quicker to use Word of Glory.  In fact, you can drag fights on forever, continually pulling mobs this way.  This also seems to keep me alive bettewr when I pull 6 to 7 mobs at a time.

Divine Storm works better when there are more mobs, because it heals 25% of total damage dealt.  Since Divine Storm hits all enemies within range, simple math tells us more mobs equals more heals.  However, more mobs equals more damage dealt, too.  It’s a risk to take, and sometimes works very well.  Because of my perceived inconsistency with this, I usually Word of Glory for more survival.

To be honest with you guys, Crusader Strike and Exorcism hit so freaking hard anyways, that you don’t really need to Divine Storm at all.


Ret Paladin have four main methods of healing…according to me at least.  All of them will see their use, and it’s up to you to decide how best to use them.  The heal I do not use?  Holy Light.

Word of Glory – I’m using this most commonly in combat.  I also use this if combat is over and I have unspent Holy Power.  This tops me off with a free heal.

Flash of Light – Fast, big heal with a large mana cost.  Can be used in combat if Word of Glory cannot be used (no Holy Power), and is a great way to top off your health pool after a fight is over.  Don’t worry about the large mana cost.  Ret Paladins have almost zero mana issues while leveling.

Divine Light – Not used until later levels, but can be used after combat is over to heal large amounts of health.  Better (cheaper) to use one of these as opposed to 2 Flash of Lights.

Lay on Hands – Last resort heal that brings us to max health.  Great for intense AoE fights, and combat when tackling mobs that are much higher in level than you are.

Khor’s Experience So Far

Guys, let me tell you, I am having a BLAST leveling this Ret Paladin.  The 4.0.1 changes have dramatically improved our leveling speed, and combat is not relegated to one or two basic attacks.  From level 1 and on, the experience and gameplay is completely rejuvenating and invigorating.

I will be doing brand new leveling guides in Cataclysm, so make sure and check back when we get settled into the new expansion!  I will be adding to this as needed up to that point!


  1. Lostitall says:

    Awesome post. My main is a Ret paladin and I decided to roll 2nd for prot/holy. After 20 levels or so I began wondering how I ever managed to level my Main..

    After this post I think Ill go back and start playing my other pally again..

  2. Ariebel says:

    I hate using divine storm even when in packs of mobs. Why you might ask…simply put, the glowing action bar button lighting up when TV is ready or has hand of light procs does not give divine storm the same treatment.

  3. Nick says:

    How about leveling without your pre bought gear mate. I’d like to see you go fresh with no money. It’s obviously very easy to level when u got pre made gear and alot of gold. I

  4. Nick says:

    I find it far more satisfying leveling totally fresh, makes u really appreciate getting those blues from the dungeons u work so hard to get. But hey, I guess it’s not for everyone. For many wow players, leveling a new toon is more of a “hurdle” to get to 80 than having fun.

  5. Khor says:

    I have plans to do an 80 without heirloom gear when Cata goes live. It will be a Tauren Paladin.

    Gold, now more than ever, won’t help speed up the leveling process, except for purchasing riding training.

    The heirloom gear helps for sure. I’m curious to see how well Blizz has tailored the leveling process with and without heirloom gear.

  6. AJ says:

    Awesome, thanks for the info. But,to be honest I wasn’t the most caculating ret paly out there before the update. But I liked it better, before I could take on mobs 4 lvls above me and still have almost full heatlh without having to heal. Yeah the hard hits are awesome, but I miss being able to survive with out worrying about heals, cause my HP regen was so nice. Now I feel like a freakin squishie having to heal fairly often and being taken down so fast. Heck is it possible to take down 120k elite solo anymore? Might have to switch to prot I suppose.

  7. PJ says:

    hi , awsome reading about your testing but i whas wondering about this :
    you said rotations would be at first :Templar’s Verdict > ect,ect,
    but how would you start if you got no Holy Power to begin with?
    your not clearly about that in how you start a fight, abvious if you out of combat and you wil begin a fight you dont have any HP to begin with so wy sayinf to begin with :Templar’s Verdict > ?

  8. Khor says:

    Hey PJ,

    When I list rotations, if the first option I list isn’t available, then you would move on to the 2nd.

    My preference for leveling is TV > Ex > CS > Judge…so if TV isn’t available, use Exorcism (with Art of War). If neither of those are available, then you would continue with a basic CS > Judge rotation until one of the better 2 abilities popped up.

    Hope that helps!

  9. Queen of Spades says:

    Hi, thanks for the good article! How about in raids? Any suggestions for good spell rotations?

  10. chris says:

    Only thing I disagree with here is the need to gear your self so highly to ready yourself for 4.0.1, hello!! The quest greens will replace them instantly, don’t bother ICC gearing yourself and getting Shadowmourne when you’ll replace them for greens and blues. Get some ilvl200 epics and 150+blues and you’re set for cataclysm.

    *Experience from a Beta tester
    You’re welcome

  11. George says:

    Thanks for the info brother

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