Last updated on September 27, 2022
True Conviction | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak
Words are what make up the entire game when it comes to Magic. Every single part revolves around words; the way cards are worded, what specific words mean within the context of the game, and what those words represent in a meta way so the flavor in terms of story and characterization isn’t broken.
Over a ton of years of playing Magic and teaching it to people around me, I’ve come to realize that one specific ability players tend to get confused by a lot is double strike. I think a lot of players just read it and realize it’s such a powerful ability by itself that they have trouble believing it or they think they’re not getting it right.
If you think double strike is almost ridiculously good, then you’re probably getting it right. It’s an incredible ability that works really well in aggro-focused strategies. So let’s go ahead and see what it’s all about!
Warren Instigator | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
Double strike allows a creature to deal damage twice in a single attack step by having it deal damage during the first strike phase and the regular damage phase.
During the damage step in most Magic games, all creatures deal damage at the same time. The only exceptions to this are first strike and double strike. First strike allows a creature to deal damage before any other creature that doesn’t have that keyword. This gives you an obvious advantage in combat since your creature can take down an opponent’s creature without taking any damage.
Double strike takes this and pushes it a step further. Your creature deals damage as if it had first strike, but when that damage step resolves it deals damage again. This immediately doubles the amount of damage your creature can deal while keeping the protection that comes with first strike.
One of the most powerful uses of double strike is with spells or enchantments that give your creatures +X/+X. If you cast Giant Growth on an attacking Llanowar Elves, then you’re gonna be dealing four damage. If you cast it on a Fencing Ace instead, then you’ll deal eight damage. It virtually doubles the card’s effect and allows you to make better use of it. Dealing six extra damage for a single mana can put you at a huge advantage.
The very first appearance of double strike dates back to the first “You Make the Card” event held by WotC. This was an event that allowed players to come up with a card that would be included in a coming set through various polls and submissions on Magic’s website.
Wayne Alward, a Magic player, submitted the ability as a possible mechanic during this event. The card would eventually become Forgotten Ancient. Double strike was rejected because it didn’t fit in green’s segment of the color pie.
Several members of the Wizards team agreed that double strike would fit into the game really well and had a very concise design. This led to its inclusion as a keyword in Legions. It stuck around ever since and almost immediately become evergreen.
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths introduced double strike counters to the game (along with plenty of other keyword counters).
Double strike is a predominantly red and white ability. White is the color with the most double strike cards, closely followed by red. Together they take up about 70% of all the double strike cards, and if we add Boros () cards to the mix, that number goes up to 80%.
I’d like to point out that there’s only one non-artifact black-bordered card with the keyword that doesn’t require red or white mana in some way: Jodah’s Avenger. Even cards like Majestic Myriarch and Animus of Predation technically need other red or white cards to actually have the double strike ability.
Yes. Double strike makes your creature deal damage once as if it had first strike and then again during the regular damage step. This means that when hitting either a creature, a player, or a planeswalker, they’re dealt damage equal to the creature’s power twice.
Double strike absolutely works when blocking since it isn’t a triggered or conditional ability. Your creature doesn’t need to meet any extra requirements other than being in combat. Double strike creatures are actually great blockers since they allow you to deal a lot of damage to big creatures while usually having a lower mana cost.
Embercleave | Illustration by Joe Slucher
If your double strike creature deals enough damage to the blocker to kill it during the first strike step, then the regular damage is never applied to anything. It’s similar to blocking with a creature and then sacrificing it before the damage step. The creature is blocked but the target that the damage would’ve applied to no longer exists, so it’s never dealt.
But there is one exception.
No, double strike lets your creature deal damage as if it had first strike and then again in the regular damage step. If said creature deals extra damage, then that damage just vanishes. The one exception is if the creature has trample.
How Does Double Strike Work With Trample?
If your creature has both double strike and trample, then any excess damage is dealt to the blocking creature’s controller. This means that if your creature is strong enough to take out your opponent’s creature with only the first strike damage, then all of the damage from the second step is dealt to that creature’s controller.
This obviously gives creatures with both double strike and trample a huge advantage since you’re able to push through almost any blocker in your way.
Double strike makes your creature deal damage twice, so you gain life from lifelink twice. This is an important detail for cards like Cleric Class and Cliffhaven Vampire since they care about each specific time you gain life more than the amount of life gained.
If your creature has deathtouch and double strike, then your creature deals damage first and always kills your opponent’s creature without receiving any damage. Mixing deathtouch with either first or double strike is always a wonderful combo since it gives you a creature that’s almost unbeatable in combat.
They trigger for each time that your creature deals damage, so they trigger twice if you hit an opponent with a double strike creature.
In the case of creatures, they may trigger only once if the first strike damage is enough to take out that creature. But the triggered ability triggers twice as long as your creature hits twice. That’s what made Markov Blademaster one of my favorite vampires back when the original Innistrad came out. It’s not a perfect card by any means, but it can be really fun to play with.
This would be redundant. Your creature still deals damage twice as long as it has double strike, so giving it first strike doesn’t make any difference. The only instance where this would matter is if an opponent removed one of the abilities from your creature, in which case the other would still remain.
This is the same scenario as giving a double strike creature first strike. It becomes redundant. Double strike allows your creature to deal damage on the first and second damage steps of the combat phase. Double strike doesn’t stack, so giving a creature two instances of double strike does absolutely nothing.
Duelist’s Heritage | Illustration by Lake Hurwitz
No, double strike doesn’t include first strike. While double strike’s reminder text says, “This creature deals both first strike and regular combat damage,” it doesn’t actually give it first strike. I know it may sound confusing, but let me explain.
Part of double strike’s effect is identical to that of first strike and it’s explained as “it deals first strike” to make things simple. But it isn’t giving the creature first strike as an ability. What the reminder text does is state that a creature with double strike deals damage once on the same damage step as creatures with first strike and then again on the regular step.
This wording can be a bit confusing for players who aren’t as experienced, especially since words and their specifics are so important to Magic.
So to make a long story short, no, double strike doesn’t give your creature first strike. No need to worry about Archetype of Courage.
Double strike is absolutely amazing. It really is just first strike but better.
It’s a really powerful ability that can turn the tide of a combat for you. It combines really well with abilities like trample, lifelink, deathtouch, and abilities triggered by dealing damage. All of these benefit greatly from double strike.
Boros Swiftblade goes with Ace because it has the advantage of a higher toughness even if it’s more prohibitive since it’s in red and white. High toughness is always good for double strike creatures because they may have the ability to deal damage twice, but it’s always good if they can survive when they receive damage.
I’ve already mentioned liking this card a lot. Markov Blademaster along with Rakish Heir perfectly represent the design of the original Innistrad vampires. Having them grow whenever they deal damage to an opponent really makes it feel like they’re vampires feeding. And Blademaster has great abilities to top that off.
It’s a great example of abilities triggered by dealing damage triggering twice whenever a creature with double strike attacks.
Any card that gives another creature double strike for a low cost is good in my book. As long as you can keep Silverblade Paladin and the creature it’s bound to alive you get double strike on both of them.
This is already a good ability on its own, but it becomes even better if you consider the possibility of giving double strike to huge creatures with trample.
I may be cheating a little with this one considering that giving one of your creatures double strike until the end of turn isn’t the only thing that makes Boros Charm so good. It’s only a part of it. For only two mana this card lets you choose one of three options: deal four damage to target player, give a creature double strike until end of turn, or make all of your creatures indestructible until end of turn.
All three of these abilities let you swing wide and try to do as much damage as possible. Both double strike and the four damage are great to finish an opponent off while giving your creatures indestructible allows you to save your creatures if combat goes wrong or block a big attack without worry. And you can exile Charm with Isochron Scepter since its mana value is only two.
Rafiq of the Many is a great commander for a fun but unexplored theme: exalted. Plenty of decks use the Voltron strategy where most of your deck is built around buffing your commander so a single attack from it is devastating. Exalted is a great ability to have in a deck like that.
Rafiq aims to add some advantages to the exalted strategy by giving further advantage to the creature that’s attacking alone. With a good Voltron/exalted strategy, double strike could be the difference between just doing some damage and defeating your opponent.
Level up cards are such a unique thing. I know a lot of players that were very critical of them, saying that you end up spending way more mana for the final level than it would cost to cast a bigger creature all at once. I personally like them and think they’re a cool and unique design.
Student of Warfare is generally well-liked among white players. It sees a lot of play in weenie decks where the focus is on small creatures. This creature shines the most when you’ve spent a nice amount of mana on it, but it’s already a pretty powerful creature to have on your field even at level two.
I’ll admit that Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion is far from the best card on this list. Paying four mana to give a single creature double strike until end of turn isn’t the most efficient way to do it. But since it’s a land, that means that the effect is repeatable every turn.
This card goes well with Commander decks that have large creatures. Being able to give one of your creatures double strike each combat, even if the mana cost is high, allows you to put pressure on opponents while saving other cards for a better moment.
We agree that paying four mana to give a single creature double strike is a bit much. With Temur Battle Rage you only need to pay two, and it’s at instant speed.
You’re usually gonna want to give double strike to larger creatures so you can make sure you’re dealing as much damage as possible. That means you’re more likely than not to have this card’s ferocious effect activate and give your creature trample. This makes the low cost even more impressive.
Getting Domri Rade to enough loyalty points that you can use its final ability isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it. We all know emblems are kinda broken and can give the player who has them a massive advantage. This is one of those emblems.
I’ve talked about how hexproof is a pretty broken mechanic that can come across as unfun. Domri Rade not only gives it to all of your creatures but it also gives with haste, trample, and double strike. It’ll feel great when you attack if you manage to play this. But playing against it can be very boring and drive players away from wanting to play against your deck, so beware.
With Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion I mentioned that being able to give double strike to a creature each turn is always a good thing. But the mana cost for it was a bit high, so let’s turn it around.
Pay a higher mana cost to cast Samut, the Tested but give double strike to a creature each turn. You also get two other abilities that are quite powerful themselves. Especially its last one.
One tribe that I love even if it doesn’t see all that much play is knights. Knight tribal decks can be a lot of fun, especially in Commander. And as Valiant Knight shows there’s some pretty interesting support for them.
Five mana is a high cost but giving all of your knights double strike can make an immediate difference between winning and losing a match if you’ve got a field full of them.
Duelist’s Heritage stands along the lines of Samut, the Tested. Play it once and you’ll be giving one of your creatures double strike every time it attacks. This is also a great card for politics decks like a Queen Marchesa build. It won’t sway anyone to your side by itself, but it can help you form some alliances or keep specific attackers away from you.
True Conviction isn’t an enchantment that’s easy to play. It has a high mana cost and will probably be targeted by your opponents as soon as you play it since it’s threatening in a very obvious way. There’s no secret combo or trick here. You’re gonna deal a lot of damage and gain a lot of life and that’s that.
Even if the chances of this enchantment actually staying on the field for too long are small, they’re never zero. Give it a chance if you’re playing a creature-heavy Commander deck. You never know what might happen.
Paying the four mana for Rogue’s Passage to sneak an attack with Warren Instigator could let you cheat any big goblin like Muxus, Goblin Grandee, Krenko, Mob Boss, or Shattergang Brothers into play for free. And then you get to put another one of them up thanks to double strike.
If you know what slivers do and how they work, then you know why a double strike sliver can be absolutely devastating to play against. If you’re playing against slivers and Bonescythe Sliver or Fury Sliver come into play, spend some removal on them. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Slivers are terrifying.
Double strike and lifelink go hand-in-hand sometimes. And Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder is definitely one of those times. What I like the most about this card is that it can buff another creature if you need it or it can buff itself so that attacking with it doesn’t mean losing it.
I’ll be honest. What I actually like the most about Bruse Tarl is the art. That really looks like the friendliest guy ever. But it’s also a really good card, especially as a partner commander.
Prophetic Flamespeaker may need some extra help to make use of that trample ability considering it only has one power, but it’s absolutely great otherwise. You’ll still get access to some acceleration even if you only manage to hit your opponent with it once.
Accompanying this card with spells that increase its strength is a great idea since it ensures you get some damage in even if it’s blocked by larger creatures.
We can all agree that paying two mana to give your creature double strike until end of turn is good. And if it also gets trample that’s even better. Whoever designed Embercleave thinks that’s not enough. It should also get +1/+1 as an equipment. And it still only costs two mana. And it’s still at instant speed.And no, you don’t have to pay to equip it the first time.
If you were around during the Throne of Eldraine Standard meta you’ve absolutely suffered against Embercleave before. It can come out of nowhere and absolutely obliterate you. And with a good Voltron commander, that legacy can live on.
Temur Battle Rage | Illustration by Jaime Jones
I enjoy double strike a lot as an ability and in the way it exists in the game right now. I’ve talked before about how sometimes mechanics that are “x but strictly better” can drive the old ability out of the game which makes the new ability overpowered and unfun. The fact that double strike didn’t entirely replace first strike lets both of them shine by giving each their own place.
The fact that almost every card with double strike needs red or white is great. We’ve seen quite a few abilities go from being color-specific to just showing up in places where they don’t really seem to fit all that well. I hope double strike doesn’t go that road, because it’d feel cheap and weird if it started showing up in mono green or black cards without some form of red or white interaction.
But enough ranting. I really like this ability and I don’t think it’s overused or broken beyond repair like some other mechanics. I really enjoy playing it and I’m not dreading when my opponents play it against me.
What do you think? Do you like double strike, or do you think it’s busted or unfun? What’s your favorite card that uses the ability? Feel free to leave a comment down below, and don’t forget to check our blog for more content.
That’s all from me for now. Have a good one, and I’ll see you next time!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: