So where does this leave the up and coming player? What talents are 'required' and which are optional? Is there any real flexibility in a raid environment?
The answer, as usual, is "it depends".
Talents I consider 'optional'
If you read EJ, at least their warlock guides, you'll see that the talent builds have a lot of 'optional' marks, though there's really only 2 or 3 points to play with. The same goes for the paladin, and I'm guessing every other class out there. So, here's my list of 'optional' talents for the Holy Paladin. Remember, even with the 'flex' points that you have, you still need 31 to move on.
- Protector of the Innocent (T1) - Technically one point here can be pulled to fill in a gap somewhere else. Personally I really like the extra self healing, as every GCD not spent on me is one I can spend elsewhere.
- Arbiter of the Light (T1) - This is a ret or prot talent plain and simple. This doesn't even belong in a PvP/Arena build. Stay away.
- Last Word (T2) - Generally only one point gets put here. With the crit we pack on our gear already, a 60% bonus crit on a target that is sub 35% health is a situational talent at best. While the 200% crit bonus makes it a little more attractive, it's kind of overkill. Losing a point here is certainly viable.
- Because of talent point availability, you'll need to max out one of these two talents to move on to Tier 3, either that or take a ret/PvP talent, which doesn't make a lot of sense.
- Blazing Light (T2) - I put this in italics, because it's really a shockadin/PvP talent. Great for soloing or for something like Chimearon burn phase. I'd question this talent in a group outside of PvP/Arena.
- Denounce (T3) - I put this in italics, because it's really a shockadin/PvP talent. It can prevent your target from getting a critical strike, but since all tanks are crit immune anyway, it's pretty pointless for PvE - to the point where I'd really question a group healing build that had one (outside of PvP/Arena).
- Enlightened Judgements (T4) - A lot of paladins take 1 point here to get hit capped. The 2nd point really only provides a little more range (5yds), and a touch more self healing (1400-2800). Personally I say skip the 2nd point here.
- Sacred Cleansing (T4) - This is the first real talent that you can skip in a large raid, as long as you have enough other cleansers in your raid. If you're doing 5 mans, any kind of Pugging, or just don't want to lose a powerful utility spell - put the one point here. If you're really starving for poitns you can take one somewhere else. Now if you're doing 25m HM content only (or trust your other healers to get all the cleanses) then by all means, skip it.
- Aura Mastery (T5) - I put this in bold because it is a rediculously powerful raid CD, and if you skip this point so you can have harder hitting exorcisms or something I will track you down and beat you to death with your own mouse. There is so much fire damage in T12 that this should be used almost on CD. Don't leave home without it.
- Tower of Radience (T6) - There is a lot of debate around this talent, especially in the 10m circles. If you're running a high Mastery build and just slamming huge Holy Lights (with fewer Divine Lights) into your BoL target, this isn't worth maxing out. It's great for generating HP if you're doing a fast DL build with lower Mastery and you spend more time casting on your BoL target (I know I do).
- Blessed Life (T6) - Taking 1/2 points here is all you need, even in a full PvP/Arena build. You're either getting hit so often that it won't matter (with the 8sec ICD), or you're not getting hit very often at all, in which case your raid probably isn't, so you don't need the free HP. Most fights you can pick up 4 or os extra HP every minute or so. A lot of AoE affects don't trigger this though, so YMMV. You can drop a 2nd point here if you skip LoD.
- Light of Dawn (T7) - our 31 point talent, this baby is either zomgwtfop, or extremely lackluster, depending on your raid. If you're not getting six people (glyphed), your HP is probably better spent on hitting a single target with WoG, especially now that it's been buffed. If you're finding yourself in a lot of stacked spots, it may still be worth it. If you're not hitting 5 or 6 people though, drop this and use WoG. My only caveat against dropping it is that we only have HR at that point for any kind of AoE heal.
After you put 31 points in your Holy Tree, you can start to branch out more. Using a lot of WoG? Pick up Eternal Glory for some free HP. I can't confirm this, but I believe the ICD on this has been removed, so you can get back to back procs. Also, if you're not using WoG, drop EG entirely, and dip down to Pursuit of Justice in the Ret tree. It's more speed than you get from an enchant, and it lets you play with other enchants. If you have some overzealous DPS, you can also cut down your Crown of Shame CD by picking up Gaurdian's Favor instead, but remember - this completely removes any free HP you'll get from Eternal Glory.
It's more than it looks, but that's what there is
So in the end, there are a few more options than an initial pass might reveal, but the base 31/5/5 build is still really solid. If you have the raid comp to let you play with some extra talent points here or there, I say go for it. In the end, I don't think any one 'valid' comp will make or break your raid, unless there's some kind of gimmic you need the HoP CD reduced for. Be prepared to defend your choices if you stray outside the norm, but know that we're still the kings of single target healing.