This is a stretch and in no way am I trying to dull the game. However, I recently ran across this potential issue. Many cards have an ability that may read, '...Play this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.' and some that say '...Play this ability only if you could play a sorcery. Now bear with me. Since the second example included the word 'if', would this mean that IF I do not have a sorcery in my hand, I cannot play a sorcery, hence, I would not be able to play the ability. As opposed to the first example which states I can use the ability any time a sorcery could be cast instead of 'if' I can play one, which I cannot if I don't possess one in hand. This is flimsy as I know the intended purpose is for the ability to only be cast during your turn as a sorcery. Any thoughts?
There are currently no cards with either the first or the second text.
From the Comprehensive Rules:
The Oracle card reference contains the official wording for all Magic cards.
108.1. Use the Oracle™ card reference when determining a card’s wording. A card’s Oracle text can be found using the Gatherer card database at Gatherer.Wizards.com.
Oracle has an advanced search tab with powerful filter options that allows you to search for cards with an exact wording. The wordings of cards get updates (errata) all the time, for example for cases like yours where a wording might be ambiguous, or when comprehensive rules changes affect a card's wording.
Additionally, many cards have rulings at the bottom of their Oracle page that answer specific questions that might arise from that card. Those rulings are not official rules, but they are derived by official judges by application of the rules.
In your case, the currently correct wording is "Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.".
The term "play" is still used, but no longer for casting spells or activating abilities:
To play a land is to put a land onto the battlefield as a special action. See rule 115, “Special Actions,” and rule 305, “Lands.”
To play a card is to play that card as a land or cast that card as a spell, whichever is appropriate. See rule 601, “Casting Spells.”
(Obsolete) Casting a spell used to be known as playing a spell. Cards with that text have received errata in the Oracle card reference. See Cast.
(Obsolete) Activating an activated ability used to be known as playing an activated ability. Cards with that text have received errata in the Oracle card reference. See Activate.
(Obsolete) The battlefield used to be known as the in-play zone. Cards that were printed with text that contains the phrases “in play,” “from play,” “into play,” or the like are referring to the battlefield and have received errata in the Oracle card reference. See Battlefield.
With a few exceptions, older cards typically worded this as:
Play this ability as a sorcery.
From Prophecy (June 2000) onward, the text was:
Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery.
Magic 2010 (July 2009) replaced "play" with "activate" for activated abilities and "cast" for spells:
Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.
As of Strixhaven: School of Mages (April 2021), which introduced several major changes to simplify rules text, the current text for this is:
Activate only as a sorcery.
All of these mean the same thing. "Any time you could cast a sorcery", or "as a sorcery", means:
- when you have priority
- during a main phase on your turn
- when the stack is empty.
It does not mean that you must have a sorcery card in hand. It only means that the timing must be such that you could cast a sorcery if you had one.
The Oracle text1 will always reflect current text conventions, regardless of what was originally printed on the card.
1"Oracle text" is the current, official text of the card as listed on Gatherer, the official Magic card database. Unlike some other trading card games, in Magic, all older cards, going all the way back to Limited Edition Alpha, are updated as needed. Quite often, this is done to ensure that older cards can be played under the current rules, e.g. the "interrupt" card type no longer exists and all such cards are now instants. Other times, it's to eliminate ambiguities in card text or simply to match current text conventions ("templating").