In one of my very first posts, I wrote about how I believe that paladins were not part of the typical MMO triad of tank-healer-dps, and that they were something else: a fifth-man class. And that the ideal 5-man group was: tank, healer, dps, dps, fifth-man.
I no longer think this is case in The Burning Crusade.
Indeed, I think that the ideal party has become: tank, healer, dps, dps, dps.
There are three reasons that I am now leaning towards this. First, healing in most TBC instances seems to have become easier. Perhaps it is the increased stamina, perhaps it's just the way the fights are set up, but it seems much easier to heal than in WoW 1.0.
Second, there seems to be a greater emphasis on crowd control, with several pulls consisting of five or more mobs, something which was very rare in WoW 1.0. Crowd control is mostly the province of the dps classes. Having three dps classes gives you three options of crowd control, which makes a lot of the fights easier.
Third, and most importantly, a lot of fights are timed, or require you to kill adds quickly. I generally find that there are many fights where you need one dps class killing adds, and two dps on the boss. A paladin just cannot deal with the adds fast enough. Example fights include Grandmaster Vorpil in Shadow Labyrinth, Kargath Bladefist in Shattered Halls, and the entire instance of Black Morass.
Yes, it's probably possible to do these instances with 2x dps and a fifth-man, especially if they are geared, but it seems to me that 3x dps is a superior makeup.
I feel rather sad, because I really liked playing the fifth-man role, and I used to feel like an essential part of the group, providing the right solution at the right time. But now--if I'm in a fifth-man slot--I can't help but notice how much easier it would be if I was replaced by a dps character.
There are a lot of ramifications to this change. The changes to healing, and new Holy tree make paladins a lot more viable as main-healers, as do the changes to Protection for tanking. However, I'm not what the Retribution tree can do. Can they take a dps slot?
For the sake of argument, pretend that Retribution's damage matches a "real" dps class. Even then, they have no crowd control. Add to that the fact that their damage does not match an equally-geared dps class, especially if they do some healing, and it's no wonder that Retribution paladins are looked down on.
Shadow priests, in contrast, are acceptable because their damage does match that of the dps classes, they provide a *lot* of addition utility in health and mana regen, and they have crowd control in the form of Shackle.
With the passing of the paladin as fifth-man concept, I think that the Retribution tree has lost its way. Holy and Protection have been strengthened and drop into the healer and tank roles, but Retribution doesn't really have a purpose in 5-man content anymore.
Oddly enough, I would say that Retribution is a decent spec for raiding, because there is--in my Karazhan experience--a lot more room to act as a fifth-man, and crowd control becomes much less important. Additionally, the utility that Retribution does possess (Sanctified Crusader, Improved Sanctity Aura) becomes more and more powerful as the size of the group increases.