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?

  • as a side note. this is similar to Flash, where cards meant only to be played during your turn can now be played as instants that can be played anytime. Older cards state that 'if' you could play an instant and not 'anytime' you could play an instant would fall under the same scrutiny. – OmegaWarMech Mar 13 '16 at 14:12
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    Note that the phrase "only if you could play a sorcery" doesn't actually appear on the Oracle text for any card, so I'm pretty sure the difference is academic. – Michael Snook Mar 13 '16 at 14:20
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    Ah, yes. Much has changed. You may wish to ask a question about what has changed. Here's the gatherer page for Wall of Distortion: gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=19583 Gatherer is the official wording for any card. Many old cards have had wording changes, as you are learning. – John Mar 13 '16 at 17:01
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    @John hm, there isn't already a canonical question about what has changed? If not, it would certainly be useful to have one. Of course the gist of it would be a link to the Returning Player FAQ that was on the Wizards forums before they shut down, assuming there is still a version of that accessible somewhere. – David Z Mar 14 '16 at 9:25
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    @John Check out the answers to How can I tell what has changed in a Comprehensive Rules update? and How can I find out when a specific comprehensive rule was introduced? if you want to find out more about what has changed or when a rule was introduced. – Rainbolt Mar 17 '16 at 17:01

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:


  1. 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.”

  2. 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.”

  3. (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.

  4. (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.

  5. (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.

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    I think it would improve the answer to add the actual rules meaning of "Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery", which is specified in rule 307.5. – murgatroid99 Mar 13 '16 at 18:58
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    @ikegami I don't see the error. Chandra's 0 ability is covered by the 2nd paragraph, while I referred to the 3rd and 4th, which are obsolete. You play cards, cast spells, activate abilities. You no longer play spells or abilities. – Hackworth Mar 13 '16 at 23:09
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    The error is that you say "you no longer play spells" when it's not true. Neither #3 nor #4 says this. (Some) cards have received erratas as #3 says, but only because cast is preferred. That doesn't mean you can't play a spell, and I gave a concrete example that shows that you can play a spell. – ikegami Mar 14 '16 at 0:56
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    -1 This doesn't answer the question at all. I agree with murgatroid99 that you should add the meaning of "activate this ability ...". This answer is basically a lecture about the wrong terminology used by the OP and doesn't help solving his problem – Ivo Beckers Mar 14 '16 at 3:37
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    @ikegami I think the idea trying to come across is "you play a (spell) card by casting the spell". Playing a card is superset action; the subset action is casting the spell. Casting a spell is playing a card, not playing a spell. – JonTheMon Mar 14 '16 at 13:51

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").

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