(Updated 5th Aug 2014)
(Patch 2.3 content in red text.)
Almost any Final Fantasy game nowadays will always have MATERIA which you can meld onto gears to enhance stats. FF14 does not make an exception. However, unlike some previous FF games, there are many restrictions that applies to the use of materia in FF14. This guide intends to help people understand how to work within those restrictions and get the most benefit out of materia melds in end-game gears to enhance a character's stats.
Only Crafted Gear Can Meld Materias
Currently, the game is set up so that the strongest gear in game can only be obtained from dungeons or by tomes. This is a measure created to prevent people from buying and selling the strongest gears on the market board, which would ruin the game. FF14 does not want strongest characters to be obtained by those who just buys gil from ChinaGil.com, and that makes perfect sense. However, crafted gears that are sellable may yet still play an important role in end-game dungeons. This is because crafted gears can have materia melded to them to enhance certain stats.
Before Patch 2.2, the highest level of non-meldable gear can be obtained is i90, whereas the highest level of crafted gear is i70 (both head/chest/belt/pants/boots and accessories, a.k.a. LEFT gears and RIGHT gears).
After Patch 2.2, the highest level of non-meldable gears can be obtained is i110 (and i115 for weapons), whereas the highest level of crafted gear is i90, but only LEFT gear. RIGHT gear remain i70 at best for crafted items.
Since Patch 2.3, the highest level of crafted accessories (RIGHT gear) has reached i90.
This setting was done to ensure that gears melded with materia will not exceed the top gears obtained in dungeons or by tomes, and will not ruin the end-game.
Functions of Crafted Gears with Materia
Function 1 - Pushing ilevel higher & boost stats quickly for main class:
Despite the fact that i100 and i110 are stronger than crafted i90 gears, not everyone can obtain numerous i110 or i100 within a short period of time. These i100/i110 gears are purchased from Rowena at Rev Toll using Soldiery Tomes or collected from loots from the Binding Coil of Bahamut. During the process of collecting more i100 or i110, one may consider the use of crafted gears with materia to boost stats quickly, so that they may be able to perform better in end-game dungeons.
Function 2 - A Shortcut for Your 2nd Class:
Most people would probably spend all soldiery tomes to build a strong main class. If that is your case too, you probably don't even have 1 soldiery tome left for your 2nd class or 3rd class. Without soldiery tomes, you cannot equip yourself with i100 for the most difficult dungeons. Crafted i90 gears become a very quick short cut. If you have a lot of gil, you can simply buy a whole set of i90 gears from the market board, and your fresh level 50 class will immediately jump from about average ilvl 55 to about average ilvl 70, allowing you to enter higher dungeons.
Function 3 - Tweaking of Stats:
This is the most important function of all, and explaining this is the main purpose of this guide. Since end-game gears have all their stats fixed, you cannot change / boost your stats like Parry/Crit/Determination/Accuracy etc. If you want your character to have more of a particular kind of stats, the use of crafted gears with materia can achieve this. You will sacrifice some stats since your ilevel will be slightly lower, but you will gain your favorite stats, like Crit for a DPS or Parry for a Tank class. This "fixing" of stats is actually very beneficial. e.g. Acc and Crit are very important to a Blackmage. Because cast time is long for each Blackmage's hit, each missed shot is a big loss. In contrast, since each Blackmage's hit can deal a lot of damage, each Crit hit is a big advantage. It is absolutely sensible for a Blackmage to sacrifice a little bit of base damage stats, vitality and defence for more Crit and Accuracy. Similarly, tanks sacrificing a small amount of Vitality and Def for more Parry can gain some advantages.
Most importantly, dungeons like the Binding Coil of Bahamut requires a good amount of Accuracy for DPS. If you're a DPS and you can't even land most of your attacks, you are bound to fail the raid. In such a case, materia gears can offer a lot of help. Rumours are that you need at least 470 Acc if you're a Monk or Dragoon doing Coil.
The Cashmere Skirt of Striking (crafted i90) above provides an extra 33 crit comparing to Melee Gaskin (i90) (http://ffxiv.gamerescape.com/wiki/Melee_Gaskins) bought with myth tomes from Rowena a Rev Toll. Thus, the Skirt significantly enhances Crit rate. The skirt has 11 less Det and 10 less Acc, but it also provides an extra 34 skill speed. Blue materias indicate materias that went directly into slots with 100% fidelity. Red materias were added by "overmelding" (a.k.a. forbidden melds) with progressively lower success rates each time.
Understanding the Restriction of "Stat Caps" & Limitations of Crafted Gears with Materia
Drawback 1: Stat Caps
Although crafted gears allow the melding of materia to boost stats, each crafted gears' stats is "CAPPED". There's a limit to how much of a particular stats can be added to a gear.
A crafted i90 helm/armor/gloves/belt/pants/boots (LEFT gear) that provides a particular kind of main stats (Strength/Dexterity/Vitality/Intelligence/Mind) cannot add more of the same main stats using materia. Main stats that is provided by the gear itself is already maxed (hitting the cap). So, for instance, do not try to add more Strength to a pair of gloves that is already providing Strength! It won't work! Main stats determine the "base damage" or "base heal power" of the class, so basically, the game is designed so that the base damage of an i90 can never be higher than an i100. (Note: Piety can be added though! Piety is not considered a main stat. This is why Piety Materia IV are so expensive!)
However, secondary stats, such as Crit/Parry/Accuracy/Determination/Skill Speed/Spell Speed and even Piety can be added to i90 LEFT gear using materia.
The stats caps are as follow for i90 gear (LEFT gear):
Head/Gloves/Boots: 21 Parry/Crit/Acc/Spell sp/Skill sp, 15 Det
Chest/Pants: 34 Parry/Crit/Acc/Spell sp/Skill sp, 24 Det
Belt: 16 Parry/Crit/Acc/Spell sp/Skill sp, 11 Det
Therefore, a crafted i90 helm like the Heavy Wolfram Helm that comes with 15 Parry can still add 6 more parry using Battledance Materia, where as a skirt that provides no Accuracy can add 34 more Accuracy using Heavens' Eye Materia.
So you may ask, if the main stats cannot be added on LEFT gear, what is the point of the existence of Vitality materia and Strength materia??? Well, they are for tweaking stats of accessories (RIGHT gear). Tank class's accessories provides no Strength on their own, but Strength can be added on them using materia. Similarly, DPS accessories provides no Vitality on their own, but Vitality can be added on them. This "tweak" allows tanks to do more damage and DPS to have more survival powers.
Each crafted i70 Gryphonskin Accessory (for DPS) can add up to 10 Vitality (=145 extra HP), and provides extra Crit/Det/Acc/Skill Sp etc. making it a great blend into a set of i90 accessories even though the Gryphonskin Accessory provides 4 less strength than i90.
Drawback 2: Reduction of Main Stats
Since the main stats of a crafted item is fixed, a crafted materia i90 LEFT gear will always provide slightly less Strength/Def/Vitality than i100/i110 gears. Blending in 1 or 2 crafter gears is usually beneficial in tweaking stats, but overuse of crafted gears will ruin your base stats horribly. For RIGHT gears, i70 is obviously much lower ilevel than i100. The Strength difference between an i70 and i90 is 4, which is not so big. But the difference between i70 and i100 is 7, which is very big. So although i70 accessories will not hurt defense and can actually gain vitality, thus better survival, the use of it would badly hurt base damage comparing to an i100.
Drawback 3: Budget
There are other limitations of crafted gears with materia. The biggest limitation is cost. Do not underestimate the cost of a single piece of materia gear. On my server, one piece of such gears can cost about 1 million gil. Since Patch 2.3, the price of mythology mats have dropped over 10 folds. The price for a single piece of i90 crafted gear is about 200K to 300K, which is affordable but not cheap. To make things worse, to fully meld the gear, it may require an extra 1 million gil to buy Tier IV & Tier III materia. Each crafted gear with slots can add up to 5 materia in total. An i90 LEFT gear has 2 slots for materia that allows melds with 100% success rate. On the 3rd meld, 4th meld and 5th meld, each meld will have your success rate reduced by a lot in a non-linear regression. Your 3rd materia only has about 29% chance of success, 4th only has about 16%, and last materia only has about 11%. You can imagine you may need about 15 to 20 materia to get the last meld successful. For accessories (RIGHT gear), it has only 1 slot, so it's even harder to meld.
If you're thinking about crafting your own i90 HQ gear, please notice that these items are 3 stars in difficulty. Only a handful of the best crafters are capable of doing so. And to become one of those crafters, the amount of gil spent on leveling crafting classes and overmelding crafting gears is perhaps way more than just a few million gil.
There are, however, ways to get around with budget. Please see last section (FAQ).
The Art of Blending in a Crafted Gear - How to Choose a Gear Worth Replacing by a Materia Gear?
Since I am a Monk, I'll lay out my own work to show you how I made my choice. First of all, I know for sure I want a high crit build for my character. So I want to substitute an item which I know for sure that I won't have Crit when I reach i100 or above. I collected the following information of Monk end-game gears:
I have highlighted a few items in green. They are the ones that I aim to get. Most of them are ones that can be easily purchased with soldiery tomes, and provides crit stats (with a few exceptions).
At the end, I have chosen the Cashmere Skirt of Striking only. I could have chosen Gloves, Boots or Belt for this substitution, but they would have provided less Crit than the Skirt since Gloves and Boots have Crit capped at 21 instead of 34. And belt is capped at 16 Crit.
As a 3-star crafter, I have made numerous gears for tanks. The most popular item for tanks is the Heavy Wolfram Helm, and there's a good reason for this. As you can see in the figure below, NONE of the available i100 and i110 helms have Parry stats. So to boost Parry stats, the best way will be to obtain a Heavy Wolfram Helm, and then max out the 21 Parry cap of it with materia. The helm itself already come with 15 Parry (Blue stats indicates NQ gear, Green stats indicates HQ gear), it just needs a Battledance materia III for the extra 6 Parry. However, the Helm does not come with Det, so most tanks I know would meld at least 2 Savage Might IV on there before adding the Battledance III.
Below is a comparison I made for i70 crafted accessories vs i90 accessories bought with myth tomes. At that time, it was before Patch 2.2, so i100 was not available yet. The comparison highlights the advantage of blending in i70 crafted gears with i90 gears.
Before Patch 2.2, it was worthwhile to obtained a fully-melded Gryphonskin Gear for DPS since it has both Strength & Dexterity. Therefore, it could be shared between Monk/Dragoon/Bard.
Since Patch 2.3, meldable i90 accessories are made available through crafting. However, the new i90 accessories in Patch 2.3 separated Dexterity from Strength. So the new i90 "Ruby" accessories are only suitable for Monk & Dragoon. Whereas Bard will need "Iolite" accessories.
Rule of Thumb 1:
A fully melded i70 gear is close to the powers of an i90 gear, while a fully melded i90 gear is close to the powers of an i100 gear.
Rule of Thumb 2:
DO NOT meld materia to any NQ crafted gears. It's a complete waste of precious materia! Make sure you use HQ crafted gears!
Rule of Thumb 3:
Always meld the most expensive materias earlier! Calculate all the stats you can add from the beginning, and plan out all 5 melds before you start melding the first materia.
Rule of Thumb 4:
Lower level materias have a better successful melding rate than higher level materias.
Rule of Thumb 5:
Using 1 or 2 i90 materia gears to tweak stats is usually beneficial. You can Crit a lot more, Parry a lot more, or having much more MP. However, using 3 or more materia gears instead of i100 or i110 will only hurt stats, since it'll greatly lower your base damage, vitality and defense.
These gears are completely out of my budget! Is there another way to get them?
Yes, there is. All the i90 crafted gears are made from 1 or 2 pieces of Wolfram Ingot, Cashmere Cloth or Saurian Leather + 2 pieces of Terminus Putty. These are the most expensive materials for crafting the i90 gears. If you can provide these materials to a top notch crafter, it would significantly lower the price of such a gear. Wolfram Ingot, Cashmere Cloth and Saurian Leather are made from Scheelite, Cashmere Fleece and Saurian Skin respectively, while Terminus Putty is made from Tawny Latex. Scheelite, Cashmere Fleece and Saurian Skin are obtained from Auriana at Revenant Toll for 500 myth tomes each, while Tawny Latex is 150 myth tomes each (However, crafters cannot synthesis 1 terminus putty from a single Tawny Latex. They come in batches of 3. Every 3 Tawny Latex produces 3 Terminus Putty.).
Scheelites are about 300K each on the market board for Zalera at the moment, while Cashmere Fleece is about 250K each. So, if your gear is worth 1 million, and is made from 2 Wolfram Ingots, you can definitely lower the price by 600K by providing 2 Scheelites to a crafter.
Since Patch 2.3, Scheelites are about 13-20K each on the market board for Zalera, while Cashmere Fleece is about 10K each. So, you can try to provide 2 Scheelites & some Tawny Latex to a 3 star crafter to lower the production cost.
The materias are way too expensive! Is there a way which I can make my own?
Yes, you may spiritbond DoW/DoM gears that are above level 50 to obtain Tier III or Tier IV materia. However, you have no control over what materia the gear will turn into. You may also try the new "Materia Transmution" if you have taken up crafting classes and have learned to meld materia onto gears from the Goblin Mutamix at Bonfire, Blackbrush Station. With transmution, you can turn any 5 materia of the same tier into 1 materia of the same tier (once in a blue moon, you can get one higher tier from lower tiers, but it's very, very rare... maybe once every 30 times). However, you still have no control over what what materia you will get. In my opinion, it's much easier to just buy from the market board when you see that the price is right.
I made a mistake with my 3rd meld. Can I remove 1 materia?
You can only remove materia if you have taken crafting classes and have learned to meld materia from Mutamix at Bonfire, Blackbrush Station. You can go back to Mutamix and initiate a removal by talking to him. The removal fee is 200 gil, and it removes EVERYTHING, so all melded materia will be lost. If you don't have the ability to remove materia, you can still ask a crafter to remove it for you if you can transfer your gear over to him/her. But if the gear is already spiritbonded to you, then you cannot transfer the gear for materia removal.
What materias should I add to my crafted gear?
For i90 LEFT gears, if you're a DPS, go for higher Crit, then depending which stat you lack, go for Det/Acc/Skill Speed/Spell Speed accordingly. If you're a Tank class, definitely Parry, then Acc/Det. If you're a Whitemage, go Crit, Piety and Spell Speed. If you're a Scholar, go Crit, Spell Speed/Det. For accessories, if you're a DPS, go Vitality & Crit first, then Det/Acc. If you're a Tank, go Parry & Strength first, then Det/Acc.
How many materia do I need for overmelds?
For a meld with 29% success rate, it's not so bad. It feels like a 1/5 chance. If you're lucky, you can get it in one to two shots. For 16% melds, it can easily take up to 15 materia if you're in bad luck. But I have one-shotted before as well. For 11% meld, it can take over 20 materia if you're in bad luck. But normally less than 15. The best I've had is 2-shot it. The worst I've had is over 35 tries. Honestly, the Random Number Generator is very annoying. It likes to eat up all your Tier IV materia, but lets you one-shot the cheaper ones...
How to use materia to tweak stats of end-game gear
Advantages and drawbacks of using crafted gear with materia is explained