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Zombify (and many similar cards like it) says:

Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield.

As far as I can tell from the wording, the actual targeting requirement is "creature card". Does this mean that you can cast Zombify, targeting a creature card that isn't in your graveyard? Of course if you can, then when it resolves it would do nothing, because it is impossible to return a card from the graveyard if it isn't in the graveyard [101.3]. But there are plenty of reasons you might want to cast a spell that has no effect.

Or is the targeting requirement is actually meant to be "target creature card from your graveyard"? This doesn't sound right to me; because if so, it should be "in your graveyard" instead of "from your graveyard" (as is used on other cards like Animate Dead.

Related; if the targeting requirement is in fact "target creature card", then what actually makes a creature card in your graveyard a legal target? Rule 115.2 says:

Only permanents are legal targets for spells and abilities, unless a spell or ability (a) specifies that it can target an object in another zone or a player, or (b) targets an object that can’t exist on the battlefield, such as a spell or ability. See also rule 115.4.

Does Zombify actually "specify that it can target an object in another zone"? It doesn't in the targeting requirements itself.

I can't find anything within the rules for targeting (115) or the rules for casting a spell (601.2c) that say that the ability a spell would have when resolving can or will affect the choice of legal targets. From a logical gameplay point of view, we can know that the card only makes sense if it allows you to target cards in your graveyard; but do the rules ever make it so that you have to look at the effect of a spell to know the set of legal targets?

The rules for abilities have a related rule about when abilities apply; but they don't deal with targets:

113.6. Abilities of an instant or sorcery spell usually function only while that object is on the stack. Abilities of all other objects usually function only while that object is on the battlefield. The exceptions are as follows:

The list of exceptions explain why Reassembling Skeleton's activated ability can be activated while it is in the graveyard. Is there a rule similar to this, but dealing with what objects are legal targets?

6

I think that the reading of 115.2 you mentioned above is just too narrow. Reposting it again:

115.2. Only permanents are legal targets for spells and abilities, unless a spell or ability (a) specifies that it can target an object in another zone or a player, or (b) targets an object that can’t exist on the battlefield, such as a spell or ability. See also rule 115.4.

115.2 specifies that only permanents are legal targets for spells or abilities unless another zone is specified (or implied by the object type). This implies one of two things is true:

  • It can only target creature cards that are currently permanents on the battlefield, and the card doesn't actually function at all.
  • "target [object] from [zone]" as a wording template does include a zone as part of the targeting requirements.

Because of how 115.2 is worded, there is not another option where it can target a creature card anywhere. Either it can only target permanents, or its zone is specified (or implied by the type of object as in (b)). Since the card does currently function, we have to assume that this is considered adequate language for specifying a zone as a part of targeting requirements.

  • I don't think this addresses my confusion; I already quoted 115.2 in my question; and explained why I am not seeing how it comes into play. – GendoIkari Nov 1 at 22:01
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    Oh, wait I did overlook that. Sorry. I can edit this a bit, but I still think that this is the correct rule. – CALEB F Nov 1 at 22:03
  • Interesting approach. I interpreted the card text a certain way and used that to show that the rules appear flawed. You started from the assumption that the rules are not flawed, and showed that therefore the card text must be interpreted differently. – GendoIkari Nov 3 at 15:53
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Zombify cannot target creature cards that are not in your graveyard.

It seems you are confused by how "from your graveyard" and the "target creature card" interact. To understand this interaction, let's look at rule 109.2a:

109.2a If a spell or ability uses a description of an object that includes the word "card" and the name of a zone, it means a card matching that description in the stated zone.

This is the rule that is most relevant for this question. As Zombify states the name of a zone (graveyard), the card "means" only cards in the specified zone.

  • Good find! Although for this rule to be relevant; we must accept that "target creature card from your graveyard" is the full description of the object, as CALEB F stated. By the way I had read Zombify's text, "from your graveyard" wouldn't be part of the description of the object. – GendoIkari Nov 4 at 14:41
  • I think with the addition of my rule, now that we know that object descriptions can include zones, it is safe to assume that. – Manuel Hoffmann Nov 4 at 21:34
  • I completely missed this rule, too. Although mine is correct, I think this is probably the best answer. – CALEB F Nov 6 at 23:47
5

The rules are a little ambiguous here, but rulings make it clear that you must choose a target in the graveyard.

For example, the card Cauldron Dance has this text:

Cast this spell only during combat.

Return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. That creature gains haste. Return it to your hand at the beginning of the next end step.

You may put a creature card from your hand onto the battlefield. That creature gains haste. Its controller sacrifices it at the beginning of the next end step.

and this ruling:

You must have a creature in your graveyard to cast this spell since it requires a valid target.

Similarly, Foul Renewal has this text:

Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. Target creature gets -X/-X until end of turn, where X is the toughness of the card returned this way.

and this ruling:

You must target a creature card in your graveyard and a creature on the battlefield to cast Foul Renewal. If the creature becomes an illegal target before Foul Renewal resolves, you’ll still return the creature card to your hand. If the creature card in your graveyard becomes an illegal target, the creature on the battlefield will be unaffected as there is no “card returned this way.”

Similar rulings can be found on Grave Exchange and Spelltwine.

  • So do you think this is a "hole" in the rules, where we are required to infer the intent of the targeting rules from cards' effects? – GendoIkari Nov 1 at 21:11
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    I'm not really sure. That's one interpretation. Another is that "from your graveyard" is really part of the targeting condition. If a card said "Return target creature card in your graveyard to the battlefield", that would clearly be part of the targeting condition the effect would probably still work fine. – murgatroid99 Nov 1 at 21:16
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    I see now that you mention that possibility in the question, but I think you don't account for the fact that Magic's grammar is more flexible than it looks at first. It's entirely possible for "target creature card in a graveyard" and "target creature card from a graveyard" to mean the same thing and both be used on different card depending on what makes them easier to read. – murgatroid99 Nov 1 at 21:29

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