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The card Cryptbreaker has the following ability:

Tap three untapped Zombies you control: You draw a card and you lose 1 life.

Why is it necessary to specify that the three Zombies must be untapped? You can't tap an already tapped creature, or use tapped creatures to pay a tap cost. MtG cards usually have a very good economy of words, so why include this seemingly unnecessary text? Would the card function differently in any circumstance if it just said "Tap three Zombies you control"?

  • There are a couple instances of MTG using extra words simply for extra clarity. Such as when they added "base" to "base power and toughness". – GendoIkari Jul 24 '18 at 17:15
  • And often using "when [card] or another creature enters the battlefield", even though "when a creature enters the battlefield" would work just the same. – GendoIkari Jul 24 '18 at 17:15
  • @GendoIkari In that case, maybe the best answer is one that explains why the card would function the same way even if the word "untapped" was removed? – BJ Myers Jul 24 '18 at 17:18
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    The CompRules are anything but economic. Not that I'm complaining, but you will often find the same rule, sometimes verbatim, in several different places, or the same basic rules such as APNAP in various wordings in different places. – Hackworth Jul 24 '18 at 17:44
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    @Acccumulation "Base" was added in the context of cards of cards that set creatures' power and toughness such as Humility. Adding "base" to the card did not change the functionality at all; previously setting a card to "1/1" would only affect the "base", but the word "base" didn't exist as part of Magic rules. – GendoIkari Jul 25 '18 at 15:47
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You are correct that the word is unnecessary; it would function the same without.

There are various times that MTG adds extra words for the sake of clarity; even when they have no effect on functionality.

A very common example are cards such as Aetherstorm Roc, which use the wording "Aetherstorm Roc or another creature enters the battlefield under your control..."

This could have simply been written "Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control" for the exact same effect. But there would be some less experienced players that would not know if it should count itself or not. The longer wording makes this explicit.

"Tap an untapped creature you control" works the same way. If it simply said "Tap a creature you control", then you wouldn't be able to activate it without actually tapping an untapped creature, due to the rule:

701.20a To tap a permanent, turn it sideways from an upright position. Only untapped permanents can be tapped.

However, the extra word helps make it clear that this is the case. Especially due to the fact that a "tap target creature" ability can in fact target a tapped creature, some people would wonder what stops them from choosing tapped creatures to pay the activation cost for "tap a creature you control".

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    I can think of a theoretical way that the 2 wordings for Aetherstorm Roc would function different; if a continuous effect were around that said that all creatures are not creatures. Then Roc would not trigger for itself under the shortened wording, but would still trigger for itself with the current wording. But that is an extreme case that I don't even know if it can exist with current cards. – GendoIkari Jul 24 '18 at 17:30
  • @Gendolkari I'm pretty sure that Roc's ability would still work the same. The wording "Roc or another creature" implies that Roc has to be a creature to trigger its ability. – Hackworth Jul 24 '18 at 17:47
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    @Hackworth I'm almost sure that's not right; I remember other questions where similar things were discussed. – GendoIkari Jul 24 '18 at 17:48
  • Could you dig that one up? Genuinely interested. – Hackworth Jul 24 '18 at 17:48
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    @SimonKlaver I believe that your confusion is the primary reason that the extra wording is added on Cryptbreaker; which the other answer goes into more detail about. So I don't think you're alone! – GendoIkari Jul 25 '18 at 16:43
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If I had to guess, I would say that it has to do with the fact that yes, you can't tap a tapped permanent to pay a cost, but if a spell or ability has an effect that taps a permanent, you can target a permanent that is already tapped, depending on the wording of the spell or ability.

A rule (I don't know which one, I'm not in a place where I can look up the number) says:

If an effect attempts to do something impossible, it does only as much as possible.

For instance, Hands of Binding is a blue Sorcery that says:

Tap target creature an opponent controls. That creature doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step.

Cipher (Then you may exile this spell card encoded on a creature you control. Whenever that creature deals combat damage to a player, its controller may cast a copy of the encoded card without paying its mana cost.)

Notice: It does not say Tap target untapped creature an opponent controls.

Let's say that your opponent has two creatures, one of whom is tapped; you have one creature. You cast Hands of Binding on your opponent's untapped creature, then cipher it onto your creature. You attack and when it deals combat damage to the player, you get to recast Hands of Binding. You can target the other creature even though it was already tapped.

When you (re)cast Hands of Binding, the creature is a legal target, because the only requirement is that the target be a creature. When the spell resolves, the target is still valid (the spell checks for legality twice). So the effects start to happen.

The first one tries and fails to happen because, as has already been mentioned, you can't tap a tapped creature, so that effect fizzles.

HOWEVER

Then the second effect happens:

That creature doesn't untap during its controller's next untap step.

That effect can happen, so it does. Presto! You now have two creatures that your opponent controls that won't untap during that player's next untap step.

I think that it's specifically this type of interaction that leads to the "extra* text on Cryptbreaker and other cards like it. Technically it's redundant, but it alleviates the confusion for people that are familiar with this interaction.

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