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Arcane Brilliance: Gemming for mages


Cinch up your robes and brandish your wands, it's time for another edition of Arcane Brilliance, the weekly mage column that sincerely hopes that this picture was taken by a warlock, just before the mage on the other end got an honorable kill.

Around Thanksgiving, Arcane Brilliance received an email from a reader named Todd. I liked it so much that I wrote him back and told him I'd devote a column to his topic at some point soon. Though it has been over a month, I'm finally getting around to writing that column. In my defense, though: I'm extremely lazy. In the interests of space, I won't print the entire email, which was long, polite, and quite well-written. But here are some selections:

"Hi There,

My name is Todd. I LOVE your columns, and read them whenever I get the chance to. I am writing you trying to get help for my mother (who I sucked into playing WoW more than a year ago). She chose to be a gnome mage and embark upon the adventure of being an arcane spell caster. We fight side by side almost every day in heroics and raids (and rip the occasional warlock to shreds whenever the opportunity arises).

Anyway, I was hoping you might give us some assistance in regards to Gemming her gear. With the plethora of options out there it is hard for us to make a choice as to what will give her the best output for the investment...
"

Todd then goes on to list the specifics of his mother's gemming setup, and the philosophy behind it in detail, and closes with what he's tried in the past:

"Now we have noticed that this current setup is a marked improvement over the previous setups we had going. First we tried pure spellpower gems but found it lacking in staying power due to a low mana pool. Next we tried Pure Intellect Gems and found a generous mana pool (30k raid buffed, 28k party buffed) but could quite hold the top of the charts in dps (however, She was almost always in the top 3). Now we are trying this new gem loadout and are looking for some guidance to see if we are on the right path.

If you can help we would appreciate it.
"

First things first: Todd has the best mom ever.

The second thing this email makes me realize is how difficult it can be to tweak your mage at the high levels of the game. Once you have the gear to put out quality DPS, maximizing that DPS through gems can often be a trial-and-error process, costing a great deal of time and gold.

Theorycrafters make it sound simple: Spellpower trumps all, every time, always, forever. And though this is largely true, the hard and fastness of this rule varies a bit between specs and playstyles. There is no cookie-cutter "optimal" stetup that will work for every mage ever, without exception.

Now, before we get started, let me issue my standard caveat when I write columns like these:

I hate numbers.

I fear them. It stems, I think, from when I was a child and a Texas Instruments calculator became self-aware while I was playing that little game where the snake eats the apples and gets longer and longer until it becomes so long that it wants to turn against its human masters and begin the dark work of ending our race. That calculator hunts me still. At night, I can hear it...graphing.

So there won't be much in the way of complex number-crunching in this column. Honestly, if you expect that kind of thing from me, you simply haven't been paying attention. What I offer here are a few guidelines to follow when gemming your mage, things that are generally true to some degree regardless of your spec or playstyle. When there are exceptions, I'll try to list those too.

In most cases, spellpower gives you the most bang for your buck.

This is almost always going to be true. But it would be a mistake to assume that the optimal gem setup for every mage is always going to be a Runed Cardinal Ruby in every slot, regardless of the color of the slot. Past a certain point, more spellpower isn't always the best policy. Once you get in the neighborhood of 4,000 spellpower, other stats, most notably haste for Arcane mages, start to creep up on something akin to equal footing.

Lets look at the current stat hierarchy:
  • Hit rating - This is the single most important stat until it is capped. See this column for specifics on your spec's hit cap. It varies depending upon talents and raid buffs. Once geared in full epic gear, this should be capped in most cases, without the need for hit rating gems. If you still need hit rating to reach your particular cap, then gems are a good place to get it. Once capped, this stat ceases to be useful in the slightest.
  • Spellpower - When in doubt, go with spellpower. In most cases, a Runed Cardinal Ruby is the single best gem you can put in a slot. This is your primary stat.
  • Crit and Haste - These are your secondary stats. Haste is of more importance to Arcane mages, while crit is more valuable to Fire/Frostfire mages. Both have effective caps, where stacking more ceases to add value, but they are so high that most mages will never see them.
  • Intellect - This is largely valuable as a mana-pool increasing stat. If you find you aren't running out of mana in long fights quickly enough to cause problems, you have enough intellect. In most cases, this isn't a stat you'll need to gem for. The exception is Arcane, which has talents that convert intellect to spellpower. For Arcane mages, the value of intellect jumps to the approximate level of haste, but is still well below spellpower in terms of pure point-for-point importance.
  • Spirit is useful for adding crit rating through Molten Armor, but absolutely every other stat already listed is more valuable than spirit for mages, without exception. There is almost never a need to gem for spirit.

Meta slot

This is one circumstance under which there actually is one "optimal" choice: the Chaotic Skyflare Diamond.

The extra crit rating is minimal, and not worth factoring in here. The real value comes from the 3% increased crit damage. This is a flat-out DPS increase, worth around 200 DPS for the more crit-heavy specs. It's the best meta gem by a long distance, regardless of any variable. You might look at one of the other metas and be tempted. You might think something else sounds appealing somehow. You are wrong. In terms of pure DPS, which are the only terms a mage should care about, the Chaotic Skyflare Diamond is the only choice worth making.

It requires at least two blue gems, which is a slight limitation. You'll want to fulfill this requirement with purple or green gems, since the blue gems on offer all suck for mages.

Red slots

This one's also easy. When you have a red slot, there's no reason not to gem for spellpower. The best choice here is the Runed Cardinal Ruby.

Blue slots

Here's where it starts to get a bit more muddy. First, look at the slot bonus. Is it something besides spellpower? If so, you might want to ignore the color of the slot and simply gem for spellpower again. If it is spellpower, you may want to consider other options. Here are your choices:
  • Sparkling Majestic Zircon - No. Just...no.
  • Glowing Dreadstone - The spellpower is good, but gemming for stamina is usually not ideal unless you're gemming for a PvP setup. In which case, this week's column pretty much ignores you anyway. Sorry, guys. This might be a good time to point out that I'll also be ignoring gems with spell penetration or resilience on them, too.
  • Purified Dreadstone - Spellpower here, but the spirit is of only marginal use. Still, if you're going with a purple gem, this is probably the best choice. If your slot bonus is 4 spellpower, you're basically trading 7 spellpower for 10 spirit, which is not a good trade in most cases.
  • Intricate Eye of Zul - Haste and spirit. For Arcane Mages, this is an option, but not a really good one. Spellpower, even at the expense of a spellpower slot bonus, is likely going to be better.
  • Misty Eye of Zul - Again, this will be an option for Fire/Frostfire, but still falls short of an off-slot-color spellpower gem in most cases.
  • Seer's Eye of Zul - Intellect's inflated value to Arcane mages makes this an interesting option for Arcane Mages, but only if mana pool size is still an issue.
  • Shining Eye of Zul - Only a valid choice if you're below the hit cap, and probably not even then. There are better ways to get your hit rating.
Yellow slots

This is actually a better slot for mages, since your orange gem options are better. All of the Green gem choices listed above, such as they are, apply here as well. Again, if the slot bonus is something besides spellpower, your best bet is almost always going to be to ignore the color and plop a spellpower gem in there.
  • Brilliant King's Amber - A solid choice for Arcane mages, but only valid for other mages as a way to pump up mana pool size.
  • Quick King's Amber - This is another interesting choice for Arcane mages, especially if your spellpower is already quite high.
  • Rigid King's Amber - Again, only an option if you're finding it hard to reach the hit cap through other means.
  • Luminous Ametrine - Intellect and spellpower. This is a nice alternative for Arcane Mages, and trumps the Brilliant King's Amber unless you really need the extra mana.
  • Potent Ametrine - The extra crit rating makes this an intriguing option for Fire/Frostfire mages. If the slot bonus is 4 spellpower, you're trading 7 spellpower for 10 crit rating, and most of the time, the spellpower is still going to win that one.
  • Reckless Ametrine - Haste makes this a decent choice for Arcane, if you can justify the 7 spellpower for 10 haste exchange rate.
  • Veiled Ametrine - Once more, only valid if you need the hit rating. Great choice if you do, terrible if you don't.
The other choice, of course, is the Nightmare Tear, which provides you with 10 intellect, 10 spirit, 10 stamina, and the other stats don't matter. You can only have one of these, it works in every slot, and for the purposes of the meta gem provides the equivalent of one of every color of gem. Frankly, I believe there are better choices out there for mages to fulfill the meta requirement, but you may find this suits your needs. This is most useful to Arcane mages, due to the increased value spirit and intellect have for them. Feel free to shove this in a blue slot if you can't think of a better way to meet your meta requirement.

A large part of your gemming choices should be made with an understanding of your mage's specific statistical needs. If you find your rotation is more mana heavy, you may need more intellect. If you aren't critting the way you'd like to, add a bit of crit rating. If your Arcane Blasts or Frostbolts aren't coming out with the frequency you'd prefer, haste gems are a good option. It's a complex and difficult balance to strike. And spreadsheets aren't always going to tell you the right answer for you. Are you a spreadsheet? Do your spells always follow the same cast order without deviation? Do fights always go as planned? Do you ever spend time running instead of casting? Is your spec a cookie-cutter one, or do you have the odd talent point here and there that you've used in a proprietary manner?

The point I'm trying to make here is that the "optimal" setup for one mage may not be the optimal setup for another. Find what works for you. Cap your hit, stack your spellpower, and everything else is gravy. Put it on your potatoes, drizzle some on your turkey, mix it with your stuffing, throw it at a warlock. In the end, it's completely and utterly up to you.



Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent mage primer for patch 3.3, or our lengthy series of mage leveling guides. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

Filed under: Mage, Analysis / Opinion, Tips, How-tos, Jewelcrafting, Features, Guides, Classes, (Mage) Arcane Brilliance

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