MTG Keywords Explained: First Strike and Double Strike

Card Kingdom Strategy

With Double Masters coming this week, we wanted to give you a double-dose of Magic: The Gathering knowledge. Today, we’re covering two related keywords in Magic: first strike and double strike.

What is First Strike?

In order to understand how double strike damage works, you’ll have to understand how first strike damage works… first (heh).

When you learned to play Magic, you may have learned the five steps of the combat phase:

  1. Begin combat
  2. Declare attackers
  3. Declare blockers
  4. Combat damage
  5. End combat

But there’s actually a secret “Step 3½” called the first strike damage step. During this step, creatures with the ability first strike can deal damage before regular combat damage happens.

Knight of the White Orchid (C20)

Here’s how this looks in practice. Say your opponent is attacking you with a 2/2 creature with no abilities, and you block with a 2/2 creature with first strike. Your creature will deal lethal damage to your opponent’s creature during the first strike damage step, destroying the attacker before it can deal regular combat damage. Pretty nifty, eh?

First strike allows creatures to destroy any attacker or blocker with toughness less than or equal to their power without taking any damage. That means they can survive combat with creatures with deathtouch, and they can destroy creatures with lifelink before they deal damage, preventing opponents from gaining life. However, first strike doesn’t get around indestructible; these sturdy creatures can survive any type of damage!

What is Double Strike?

Double strike is a variation on first strike that allows creatures to deal damage during the first strike and regular combat steps. So, if a creature with double strike has two power, it’ll deal two damage twice (four damage in total)!

Blocking creatures with double strike can get a bit tricky, so here are some quick examples of how the math works.

Example #1: 2/2 creature with double strike blocked by another 2/2 creature with no abilities

The creature with no abilities takes two damage and dies during the first strike damage step, and the creature with double strike lives to fight another day.

Example #2: 2/2 creature with double strike blocked by 3/3 creature with no abilities

During the first strike damage step, the 2/2 creature deals 2 damage to the 3/3 creature.

During regular combat damage, the 2/2 creature deals 2 additional damage to the 3/3 creature. The 3/3 creature deals 3 damage back.

Both creatures die.

Example #3: 2/2 creature with double strike blocked by 5/5 creature with no abilities

During the first strike damage step, the 2/2 creature deals 2 damage to the 5/5 creature.

During regular combat damage, the 2/2 creature deals an additional damage to the 5/5 creature. The 5/5 creature deals 5 damage back.

The 2/2 creature dies, but the 5/5 stays alive.

Double the Examples

We scoured Magic’s history to find some classic examples of first strike and double strike.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

First up, it’s Legacy favorite Thalia, Guardian of Thraben! Thalia’s “taxing” effect means that you’ll have to pay one extra mana to remove her, and first strike makes her tough to tussle with in combat, too.

Lyra Dawnbringer

First strike is just one of Lyra Dawnbringer’s useful combat abilities. She was a force to be reckoned with in Standard and can still dominate battlefields in Commander or Historic Brawl.

Goblin Chainwhirler

First strike is a common ability among white creatures, but it’s also present in red. Goblin Chainwhirler is a recent example that’s seen play in both Standard and Historic. Fun fact: You can cast spells before the first strike damage step, so some extra fire power from a burn spell will help Chainwhirler destroy much larger blockers!

Vampire Hexmage

First strike also occasionally appears on black creatures. It may not get into combat often, but Vampire Hexmage has first strike!

God-Eternal Oketra

One of the most popular exemplars of double strike is God-Eternal Oketra. While she’s most famous for creating hordes of zombies, she’ll also deal six damage if you don’t block her in combat.

Rafiq of the Many

Rafiq is one of the Commander format’s most fearsome players. Buff his power and make him unblockable, and you’ll deal 21 points of commander damage in no time.

Bonescythe Sliver

Rafiq isn’t the only one who can grant double strike to creatures. Bonescythe Sliver gives double strike to your entire Sliver squad.

Learn More

Check out the rest of our keyword ability primers:

Companion
Cycling
Deathtouch
Hexproof
Indestructible
Mutate
Phasing
Trample