When armor and weapons with gem sockets were first introduced in Burning Crusade, they were an entirely new concept. For the first time, players could customize the statistical priorities of their character. Customization eventually gave rise to what we know today as theorycrafting, a study of how to best optimize the numbers that form your character’s statistics. This was further enhanced through the introduction of reforging in Cataclysm.
Today, we look at some of the basic things to look for when socketing your armor with gems. There are seven types of gems in the game, six of which represent each portion of a color wheel. The final gem is called a meta gem and can only be activated if certain colored gems are already socketed in your gear. For hunters, here are the gems that are of interest (but not necessarily optimal) for hunters:
- Red gems: [Delicate Chimera's Eye] (+67 Agi; available only to jewelcrafters), [Delicate Inferno Ruby] (+40 Agi), [Perfect Delicate Carnelian] (+35 Agi), and [Delicate Carnelian] (+30 Agi). The “Delicate” prefix indicates that the gem uses the Agility statistical bonus.
- Orange gems: [Adept Ember Topaz] (+20 Agi & +20 Mastery), [Deadly Ember Topaz] (+20 Agi & +20 Crit), [Deft Ember Topaz] (+20 Agi & +20 Haste), [Perfect Adept Hessonite] (+18 Agi & +17 Mastery), [Perfect Deadly Hessonite] (+18 Agi & +17 Crit), [Perfect Deft Hessonite] (+18 Agi & +17 Haste), [Adept Hessonite] (+15 Agi & +15 Mastery), [Deadly Hessonite] (+15 Agi & +15 Crit), and [Deft Hessonite] (+15 Agi & +15 Haste). Note the different prefixes to indicate the different statistical combinations with Agility.
- Yellow gems: [Fractured Chimera's Eye] (+67 Mastery; available only to jewelcrafters), [Quick Chimera's Eye] (+67 Haste; available only to jewelcrafters), [Smooth Chimera's Eye] (+67 Crit; available only to jewelcrafters), [Fractured Amberjewel] (+40 Mastery), [Quick Amberjewel] (+40 Haste), [Smooth Amberjewel] (+40 Crit), [Perfect Fractured Alicite] (+35 Mastery), [Perfect Quick Alicite] (+35 Haste), [Perfect Smooth Alicite] (+35 Crit), [Fractured Alicite] (+30 Mastery), [Quick Alicite] (+30 Haste), and [Smooth Alicite] (+30 Crit). Yellow gems support a number of a secondary statistics that are important to hunters.
- Green gems: [Forceful Dream Emerald] (+20 Haste & +30 Stam), [Jagged Dream Emerald] (+20 Crit & +30 Stam), [Lightning Dream Emerald] (+20 Haste & +20 Hit), [Piercing Dream Emerald] (+20 Crit & +20 Hit), [Puissant Dream Emerald] (+20 Mastery & +30 Stam), [Sensei's Dream Emerald] (+20 Mastery & +20 Hit), [Perfect Forceful Jasper] (+18 Haste & +26 Stam), [Perfect Jagged Jasper] (+18 Crit & +26 Stam), [Perfect Lightning Jasper] (+18 Haste & +17 Hit), [Perfect Piercing Jasper] (+18 Crit & +17 Hit), [Perfect Puissant Jasper] (+18 Mastery & +26 Stam), [Perfect Sensei's Jasper] (+18 Mastery & +17 Hit), [Forceful Jasper] (+15 Haste & +23 Stam), [Jagged Jasper] (+15 Crit & +23 Stam), [Lightning Jasper] (+15 Haste & +15 Hit), [Piercing Jasper] (+15 Crit & +15 Hit), [Puissant Jasper] (+15 Mastery & +23 Stam), and [Sensei's Jasper] (+15 Mastery & +15 Hit). This category of gems provides the maximum customization options compared to other colors.
- Blue gems: [Rigid Chimera's Eye] (+67 Hit; available only to jewelcrafters), [Rigid Ocean Sapphire] (+40 Hit), and [Perfect Rigid Zephyrite] (+35 Hit), and [Rigid Zephyrite] (+30 Hit). Another option is the stamina statistic gem, though one should never gem solely for stamina as a hunter because it does not contribute to DPS.
- Purple gems: [Glinting Demonseye] (+20 Agi & +20 Hit), [Shifting Demonseye] (+20 Agi & +30 Stam), [Perfect Glinting Nightstone] (+18 Agi & +17 Hit), [Perfect Shifting Nightstone] (+18 Agi & +26 Stam), [Glinting Nightstone] (+15 Agi & +15 Hit), and [Shifting Nightstone] (+15 Agi & +23 Stam).
Although there are six gem colors, there are only three socket colors: red, blue, and yellow. The three secondary colors (which are combinations of the primary three) can be socketed in either of its primary color sockets. For example, a green gem can be placed in either a blue or yellow socket.
As mentioned above, there are also meta gems that can be activated if you have certain colored gems socketed in your gear. Meta gems of interest for hunters are:
- [Agile Shadowspirit Diamond] (+54 Agi & 3% increased critical damage; requires 3 socketed red gems), and
- [Chaotic Shadowspirit Diamond] (+54 Crit & 3% increased critical damage; requires 3 socketed red gems).
Meta gems are currently only used on endgame helm armor only. There is also a final type called the prismatic socket/gem, which means that it can be matched with any color that is available except for meta.
Optimizing and Maximizing Sockets
Each piece of armor or weapon with sockets have a certain socket bonus, a certain statistical value that will be added to your gear for having the correct color gem in the socket. For most people, the obvious choice would be to gem for the socket bonus. They would choose the color appropriate gem and balance the statistics on their character. However, this method of optimizing your sockets (by obtaining the socket bonus) doesn’t necessarily maximize their usage. A hunter’s gemming priority for calls for maximum Agility, our primary statistic.
In some cases, the optimum is better than the maximum, such as the [Windhome Helm], which has a meta socket and a yellow socket. One should not use the maximum agility gem in this case because of the socket bonus. Using the agility meta gem and a red gem will give you 94 agility from gemming alone. However, if an orange gem were used, the agility bonus from gemming increases to 104. Clearly, achieving the socket bonus is very important.
However, there are times when going for the maximum is better than achieving the optimum. When you look at the socket bonus of [Lightning-Charged Legguards], 20 additional agility is very appealing. Unfortunately, it uses two yellow sockets. If one were to use two orange gems, the total agility gained from gemming is only 60. Compare this to using two red gems, which provides a total of 80 additional agility. Achieving a socket bonus is not important in this case.
There are also rare cases when the optimum case is also the maximum. This is true for [Voltage Source Chestguard] and [Tunic of Failed Experiments], both of which have a red and a blue socket. When using a red and a purple gem, the total agility gained from achieving the socket bonus is equivalent to using two red gems and not achieving the bonus. The upside to using the blue socket goes back to the idea of customization. By playing around with reforging and gems, you can find a hit rating that is the closest to the cap value of 961. If you are already at cap, you can use a different purple gem that provides a stamina bonus instead.
A Note on Theorycrafting
Although customization allows the hunter to freely socketed gems, most of the gems listed above will never be used by hunters because they do not provide the greatest boost in DPS. Current gemming preference indicates that crit gems are more attractive than haste gems, which in turn are more attractive than mastery gems. As such, the orange agility/crit gem is often seen on hunters.
However, one could also say that hunters are often expected to be updated on their theorycrafting, thus everyone is merely following everyone else and not actually analyzing what gems are better suited for them.