Gems, Sockets, and You…

A detailed discussion on the theory of gem selection…

Last night when I was online, I had a fellow tankadin whisper me and ask me about my gem choices, as I replaced all of my rare gems with epics on patch day. With the advent of epic gems, I had the opportunity to re-evaluate how I wanted to gem my equipment. It got me to thinking about gem selection and the purpose of sockets. When blizzard first put sockets into gear, I was confused as to their motivation to do such a thing. I liked my T2 just the way it was, even though we never really achieved defense cap back in Vanilla. As I grew to understand the purpose of sockets and personalize my gear as I saw fit, I developed a certain strategy when it came to my gem selection.

The different gemming conventions, and the story of three pallies

Currently, there are tanks all around Azeroth that love to gem as much stamina as possible. Even on our beloved MT site, people love to talk about socket bonuses and only socket to the color if the bonus is 6/9/12 stamina, etc. I deviate from this train of thought and I wanted to have a discussion on my philosophies behind gemming that date back to the Sunwell Days.

When I was a healer back in Sunwell, I was part of a three paladin healing core and each of us gemmed differently. It brought a unique strength to the group of paladins as a whole and at the same time identified what each of us truly valued from a healing stand point. In retrospect, as individuals, we may have been inadequate from a theorycrafting stand point, but as a team, we had everything. One pally geared for mp5, one for crit, and I geared for haste. In concert we were ideal, big heals, long heals, and fast heals.

Why am I rambling on about healing in a tankadin blog? I mean come on, all we care about when it comes to healing is that the heals we receive are greater than the damage we take while mobs are alive. Well the story of the three healers and their gemming is a nice little anecdote for how tanks should be gemming and and for a lesser part enchanting their gear. Each paladin as an individual was lacking something. The mp5 healer did not have the crit or healing power that others had, making her heals smaller. However she was always the last one with a mana pool. The crit healer lacked the haste, so he always had a lot of over healing. I myself focused on spell haste, and I had the most HPS for the beginning of the fight, however there were fights that pressed my mana pool and potion timer (remember those, I was an Alchemy whore!).

Gemming your Effective Health Set – Theory and Application

As I have already touched on threat sets, I would like to use our progression set as the example here. When working on creating your effective health set, the combination of our most valued stats, Stamina, Armor, Agility, Dodge, and Parry are just as important to our survival as three holy pallies working in concert. The concept of Effective health and its practical application in gemming philosophy are very powerful, however to be short sighted and only see effective health as health is, in my opinion, a common misconception. Effective health, as explained by a MUCH smarter tank than I, is as follows:

Effective health “…is basically a measurement of how much raw damage a creature has to deal to kill you. It is a measurement of Armor and it’s relation to Stamina…

Effective Health is the measurement of how much breathing room your healers have to keep you alive assuming all other factors fail — assuming you do not avoid or block attacks or have a mana shield active. Effective Health is important for tanking heavy hitting creatures because of Murphy’s Law — if you can have long strings of not Dodging an attack, it will definitely happen. Raid tanking, ultimately, is about stability.” – Ciderhelm

To only increase your effective health by stacking stamina is to overlook the other key factors that contribute to your survival, namely armor, and to a lesser extent pure avoidance, and shield block value. You have to remember that effective health is a theory and a concept, not a holistic approach. To overlook your ability to prevent damage and as a result save your healers mana and blood pressure, is a bad judgement call.

With these key elements in mind, I like to balance my gems to ensure that I am working on creating the best overall effective health possible, which includes gemming for survival and not being a mana sponge. By increasing your avoidance, armor and health at the same time, you not only increase your effective health, but also reduce the amount of mana needed to heal you. The less damage you take, the less heals you need, and the more mana your healers have to drop big heals on you when you need them.

It is crucial to understand that in a pure effective health set, gearing stamina and armor in concert is the most powerful thing that you can do to prevent a tank death. Do not neglect one for the other. However this is only for Effective health. In terms of the total package, there are other factors that play into a tank that is fun and easy to heal, who holds great threat, and has the survivability to tank new encounters.

One other essential thing to take into account is that you always want to gem to the pieces strengths, not what you want the overall outcome of your gear set to be. The main reason for this is the fact that you will be using pieces in multiple gear sets, EH, Avoidance, threat, block, etc. and you do not want to just optimize for what you are wearing for one set, but for all of the sets. If you enhance the strengths of a specific piece of gear, it will always be the best choice for that slot for a given role.

Agility or Dodge?

In closing, I would like to address the decision of agility or dodge when gemming in 3.2. With the nerf to dodge, Agility has become an equal stat to dodge. Below are two links that will give you some reference to the theory and discussion around the balancing of avoidance sats and how Agility has surpassed dodge as the best EH choice for a red slot:

Some Preliminary Conclusions… on Avoidance in 3.2
Agility vs. Dodge, The Debate Rages On

Long story short, to increase my effective health via armor and dodge, and my threat via crit, I have used 10 Agility 15 Stamina gems wherever I would have considered a dodge gem in the past. Furthermore, when you are trying to evaluate what gem would be best for you, you have to take into account not only the benefits you will get from the increase in stats, but also the opportunity cost of each stat it self. The stamina gem may give you the most effective health or at least raise your health pool, but the piece may be better suited for a threat set, or an avoidance set. In these cases, the best opportunity cost for the socket may be an agility gem or a hit gem.

In the end the decision is yours, just  make sure you choose wisely!


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  • What is this nonsense? HoPo and a total overhaul. It's going to be a long weekend of playing around.. 8 years ago



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