Target

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A target is a chosen recipient of the effects of a spell or ability. A spell can require you to target a creature, for instance. The text mentioning the target will usually say what sort of thing may be targeted.

Specific rules apply when a spell has targets. Learning these rules is one of the earliest tasks for beginner players as they improve their expertise with game mechanics.

Key ideas[edit | edit source]

The targeting process is always signified by the word "target". This may appear in the card text, or in the definition of a keyword ability on the card. A card does not have targets just because it damages or destroys a creature, allows a player to choose something, or refers to "you" or "your opponent", unless it uses the word "target"!

Spells and abilities requiring targets may only be played if valid targets can be chosen. For instance, a spell that says "target black creature" can only be played if there is a black creature to play it on. But, a spell that says it affects a creature "if it is black" can be played even if there is no black creature (that part of the effect would simply do nothing).

Targets must be chosen as the spell is being cast, unlike many other choices made when a spell resolves. Opponents may therefore react to the spell with knowledge of the intended targets, before it actually has any effect, and targets may not be changed after seeing these reactions.

A targeted spell will not resolve if its targets are invalid. If all targets are invalid, no part of the spell has any effect, even if some parts of the spell would've affected something other than the targets. This is informally known as fizzling. A spell with one or more valid targets remaining will still resolve, but any of its effects that relate to the invalid targets will not happen.

Related mechanics[edit | edit source]

One of the most common interactions with targeting is when a target is "bounced" from the battlefield before the spell resolves, such as with Unsummon. This causes the spell to "lose track" of the target, even with an effect that only removes the target temporarily, like flickering. Subsequently it will fail to resolve due to invalid targets.

Also common are abilities such as Hexproof, Shroud, and Protection which prevent targeting. These abilities can sometimes be granted to targets of a spell on the stack, making them invalid targets and causing that spell to fail.

Preventing a spell or ability from resolving by removing its targets or making them invalid is an alternative to countering the spell. For some time, such a spell was said to be "countered by the game rules", but under current rules it simply "does not resolve" and is removed from the stack.

The conditions of certain triggered abilities may be based on something being targeted by a spell, or a certain kind of spell, or a spell having a certain kind or number of targets.

Most effects that copy a spell allow choosing new targets.

Perhaps the rarest targeting-related abilities are those that change another spell's target, such as Shunt.

Common misconceptions[edit | edit source]

Due to the specific timings and requirements involved with targeting, there are few points beginners may misunderstand, but are important in understanding cards or tactics.

Targets must still be declared for abilities that "may" do something. Since targets are chosen on casting, and the choice of whether or not to perform the action is made upon resolution, the controller must still choose a target even if they plan to choose not to take the optional action, and the ability cannot be used at all if there is no available target. This is in contrast to "up to X targets" abilities, described below.

Some abilities that mention targets CAN be cast untargeted. The two ways this usually happens are:

  • When its text specifies "up to" a certain number of targets, its controller can choose 0 targets at the time it is cast, making it an untargeted spell or ability. Any of its effects not relating to targets will still happen normally. This is common on planeswalker abilities which add loyalty, since it allows the ability to be used for the gain in loyalty even if there are no suitable targets for the rest of its effects.
  • When it is a modal spell or ability. Its controller chooses the mode at the time of casting, and if the chosen mode has no targets, it is treated as a completely untargeted spell.

The same target can be chosen for multiple instances of the word target, but not for a single instance of the word phrased as a multiple. For example, Bounty of Might allows one creature to be chosen for all three abilities; or different creatures for all three; or two the same and one different, because there are three instances of the word "target" and each is chosen separately. However, Swelter says "two target creatures" and therefore must have two separate valid targets; it cannot deal 4 damage all to one creature.

Rules[edit | edit source]

From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (October 4, 2019—Throne of Eldraine)

Target
A preselected object or player a spell or ability will affect. See rule 115, “Targets.”

From the Comprehensive Rules (October 4, 2019—Throne of Eldraine)

  • 115. Targets
    • 115.1. Some spells and abilities require their controller to choose one or more targets for them. The targets are object(s) and/or player(s) the spell or ability will affect. These targets are declared as part of the process of putting the spell or ability on the stack. The targets can’t be changed except by another spell or ability that explicitly says it can do so.
      • 115.1a An instant or sorcery spell is targeted if its spell ability identifies something it will affect by using the phrase “target [something],” where the “something” is a phrase that describes an object and/or player. The target(s) are chosen as the spell is cast; see rule 601.2c. (If an activated or triggered ability of an instant or sorcery uses the word target, that ability is targeted, but the spell is not.)

        Example: A sorcery card has the ability “When you cycle this card, target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn.” This triggered ability is targeted, but that doesn’t make the card it’s on targeted.

      • 115.1b Aura spells are always targeted. These are the only permanent spells with targets. An Aura’s target is specified by its enchant keyword ability (see rule 702.5, “Enchant”). The target(s) are chosen as the spell is cast; see rule 601.2c. An Aura permanent doesn’t target anything; only the spell is targeted. (An activated or triggered ability of an Aura permanent can also be targeted.)
      • 115.1c An activated ability is targeted if it identifies something it will affect by using the phrase “target [something],” where the “something” is a phrase that describes an object and/or player. The target(s) are chosen as the ability is activated; see rule 602.2b.
      • 115.1d A triggered ability is targeted if it identifies something it will affect by using the phrase “target [something],” where the “something” is a phrase that describes an object and/or player. The target(s) are chosen as the ability is put on the stack; see rule 603.3d.
      • 115.1e Some keyword abilities, such as equip and provoke, represent targeted activated or triggered abilities. In those cases, the phrase “target [something]” appears in the rule for that keyword ability rather than in the ability itself. (The keyword’s reminder text will often contain the word “target.”) See rule 702, “Keyword Abilities.”
    • 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.
    • 115.3. The same target can’t be chosen multiple times for any one instance of the word “target” on a spell or ability. If the spell or ability uses the word “target” in multiple places, the same object or player can be chosen once for each instance of the word “target” (as long as it fits the targeting criteria). This rule applies both when choosing targets for a spell or ability and when changing targets or choosing new targets for a spell or ability (see rule 115.7).
    • 115.4. Some spells and abilities that refer to damage require “any target,” “another target,” “two targets,” or similar rather than “target [something].” These targets may be creatures, players, or planeswalkers. Other game objects, such as noncreature artifacts or spells, can’t be chosen.
    • 115.5. A spell or ability on the stack is an illegal target for itself.
    • 115.6. A spell or ability that requires targets may allow zero targets to be chosen. Such a spell or ability is still said to require targets, but that spell or ability is targeted only if one or more targets have been chosen for it.
    • 115.7. Some effects allow a player to change the target(s) of a spell or ability, and other effects allow a player to choose new targets for a spell or ability.
      • 115.7a If an effect allows a player to “change the target(s)” of a spell or ability, each target can be changed only to another legal target. If a target can’t be changed to another legal target, the original target is unchanged, even if the original target is itself illegal by then. If all the targets aren’t changed to other legal targets, none of them are changed.
      • 115.7b If an effect allows a player to “change a target” of a spell or ability, the process described in rule 115.7a is followed, except that only one of those targets may be changed (rather than all of them or none of them).
      • 115.7c If an effect allows a player to “change any targets” of a spell or ability, the process described in rule 115.7a is followed, except that any number of those targets may be changed (rather than all of them or none of them).
      • 115.7d If an effect allows a player to “choose new targets” for a spell or ability, the player may leave any number of the targets unchanged, even if those targets would be illegal. If the player chooses to change some or all of the targets, the new targets must be legal and must not cause any unchanged targets to become illegal.
      • 115.7e When changing targets or choosing new targets for a spell or ability, only the final set of targets is evaluated to determine whether the change is legal.

        Example: Arc Trail is a sorcery that reads “Arc Trail deals 2 damage to any target and 1 damage to another target.” The current targets of Arc Trail are Runeclaw Bear and Llanowar Elves, in that order. You cast Redirect, an instant that reads “You may choose new targets for target spell,” targeting Arc Trail. You can change the first target to Llanowar Elves and change the second target to Runeclaw Bear.

      • 115.7f A spell or ability may “divide” or “distribute” an effect (such as damage or counters) among one or more targets. When changing targets or choosing new targets for that spell or ability, the original division can’t be changed.
    • 115.8. Modal spells and abilities may have different targeting requirements for each mode. An effect that allows a player to change the target(s) of a modal spell or ability, or to choose new targets for a modal spell or ability, doesn’t allow that player to change its mode. (See rule 700.2.)
    • 115.9. Some objects check what another spell or ability is targeting. Depending on the wording, these may check the current state of the targets, the state of the targets at the time they were selected, or both.
      • 115.9a An object that looks for a “[spell or ability] with a single target” checks the number of times any object or player was chosen as the target of that spell or ability when it was put on the stack, not the number of its targets that are currently legal. If the same object or player became a target more than once, each of those instances is counted separately.
      • 115.9b An object that looks for a “[spell or ability] that targets [something]” checks the current state of that spell or ability’s targets. If an object it targets is still in the zone it’s expected to be in or a player it targets is still in the game, that target’s current information is used, even if it’s not currently legal for that spell or ability. If an object it targets is no longer in the zone it’s expected to be in or a player it targets is no longer in the game, that target is ignored; its last known information is not used.
      • 115.9c An object that looks for a “[spell or ability] that targets only [something]” checks the number of different objects or players that were chosen as targets of that spell or ability when it was put on the stack (as modified by effects that changed those targets), not the number of those objects or players that are currently legal targets. If that number is one (even if the spell or ability targets that object or player multiple times), the current state of that spell or ability’s target is checked as described in rule 115.9b.
    • 115.10. Spells and abilities can affect objects and players they don’t target. In general, those objects and players aren’t chosen until the spell or ability resolves. See rule 608, “Resolving Spells and Abilities.”
      • 115.10a Just because an object or player is being affected by a spell or ability doesn’t make that object or player a target of that spell or ability. Unless that object or player is identified by the word “target” in the text of that spell or ability, or the rule for that keyword ability, it’s not a target.
      • 115.10b In particular, the word “you” in an object’s text doesn’t indicate a target.

Any target[edit | edit source]

From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (October 4, 2019—Throne of Eldraine)

Any Target
A spell or ability may require “any target.” “Any target” is the same as “target creature, player, or planeswalker.” See rule 115.4.

Spell redirection[edit | edit source]

From the glossary of the Comprehensive Rules (October 4, 2019—Throne of Eldraine)

Change a Target
To choose a new, legal target for a spell or ability. See rule 115.7.

There are some spells that can redirect a target. Spell redirection (Change the target of target spell with a single target.) is primary in both blue and red.[1]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Mark Rosewater (June 5, 2017). "Mechanical Color Pie 2017". magicthegathering.com. Wizards of the Coast.