I’ve been seeing a disturbing mage trend lately. Sometimes folks send me armory links (their own, a friend’s, a guildmates’, whatever). Sometimes these armories reveal things. Horrible things, people. Mages with strength shoulder enchants. Mages with all blue gems. Although I’m primarily concerned with Fire these days, Intellect is the strongest stat for all mage builds. But it’s not aimed at them and so statements about secondary stats (crit, haste) may not hold true. Use at your own risk, your mileage may vary, etc.
Gemming a fire mage is simple!
You want Brilliant Inferno Rubies.
Lots and lots of Brilliant Inferno Rubies. Intellect is far and away our most powerful stat. A red socket? Put a red gem in it.
Now this next part is, I think, where many mages get tripped up. It’s extremely tempting when you see a socket of a particular colour to want to put a gem that will match that colour. We’re taught this as kids, right? Sorting games, matching games, all your crayons colour-sorted (okay, maybe that was just me).
You must let this go.
Whenever you’re gemming any piece of gear, take a critical look at what you stand to gain and lose. For example, take these Firelord’s Gloves. They have a yellow socket. The socket bonus is +10 Mastery, which you could achieve if you used an orange Reckless Ember Topaz. In that case you’d have +20 Int, +20 Haste, and +10 Mastery. But it’s not worth it. You’re losing 20 Int by not gemming an Inferno Ruby, and Int should be your priority.
Now let’s look at another piece of tier gear, something a bit trickier, the Firelord’s Leggings. Now these have a red socket (no brainer) and a yellow socket. But look at the socket bonus – it’s +20 Int. You could put an Inferno Ruby in each socket and you’d have +80 int gain from gems. Or, if you put a red (+40) and an orange (+20 Int/+20 Haste) you’d also meet the socket requirements so you’d have a total of +80 Int and +20 Haste. In this case you stand to gain by using an orange gem, but unless the socket bonus on a piece is 20 Intellect or greater, it will almost always be a DPS loss to gem other than red.
Hit Me With Your Best Shot
I’m anticipating you here. But what about hit gems, you say. I’m so far below the hit cap, I can’t possibly hit the cap without using gems. I still stand by no blue gems, period. At the beginning of the expansion when our meta gems were loopy you could argue a case for blue gems. The hit cap can seem a distant goal. First, you have to be familiar with other ways to reach the hit cap. Investigate hit trinkets (like the one from Tol Barad) and reforge your weakest stats to hit on all your gear wherever possible. For fire mages, this means mastery. Reforge mastery because it’s really not great. Seek gear with hit on it, and see how close you are at that point. If you’re close, consider that you may be hit-capped and you will do less DPS than a mage who is not hit-capped but has more Int.
I know, it’s radical. We’re bludgeoned with hit cap this and hit cap that. And don’t get me wrong, it’s important to reach the hit cap. But hit is only important up until the point where it isn’t – and perhaps even close to that point. Over the past month my hit has varied from between about 16.5% and 17%. Having all of my spells hitting harder (with more spellpower, more int!) is, I believe, better for me than killing myself to reach the hit cap. Look at everywhere you can obtain hit (enchants, reforging, gear) and seek it through those avenues first before devoting your gemming to it. In any slot where you are sacrificing potential Intellect, realize that you will be hurting your DPS.
Much like the Firelord’s Leggings above, there will sometimes be pieces of gear where having a purple hybrid gem to gain a socket bonus IS worthwhile. In these cases, by all means, use an Intellect/Hit gem. That extra twenty hit will be invaluable and it’s just icing on the delicious intellect cake we so love to conjure.
If you want to read about this in more depth, the Fire Mage Compendium at EJ is excellent and should cover all of your needs. I can’t recommend it enough. I know not everybody wants to read EJ though, you may just have a mage alt you like to play from time to time, or whatever. So, the TL;DR version:
Gem red, unless the socket bonus is equal to what you’d stand to gain from gemming red anyway. Grab as much Int as you can. Reforge your gear to gain the hit you need and seek gear with hit already on it. Remember the in-game tooltip shows you how much hit you have versus various level creatures, and you only need 17% hit if you’re going to be raiding. Your DPS might be higher if you aren’t quite at the hit cap even for raiding, but use this advice with caution. It’s one of those ‘you have to know the rules before you can break the rules’ things. If you just want to run 5-person content, load up on Int and never look back!