Last updated on October 12, 2022

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben - Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

Welcome planeswalkers! I’m here to help break down another keyword that may be valuable in your Limited and Constructed strategies. Today we’ll be talking first strike. This evergreen keyword can change the course of any combat and may just give you the advantage you need.

So, let’s dive in and answer many of the burning questions you may have. Does first strike stop trample? What are some of the best cards that have first strike? Is first strike good? Let’s find out!

How Does First Strike Work?

Halana and Alena, Partners - Illustration by Jason Rainville

Halana and Alena, Partners | Illustration by Jason Rainville

A creature with first strike deals combat damage before any creature that doesn’t have first or double strike.

Imagine that after attackers and blockers have been declared, the damage step has now been broken into two steps. The first damage step is for creatures with first or double strike and the second is for every other creature without those keywords. If the creature receiving the first strike damage in the first damage step is killed and it doesn’t have first or double strike, it dies and doesn’t deal its combat damage.

According to the MTG Comprehensive Rules rule 702.7a: “First strike is a static ability that modifies the rules for the combat damage step.”

The History of First Strike in MTG

First strike has been a keyword since the inception of MTG. It was introduced in the Alpha set that was released in 1993. Since then, first strike has appeared in every color and almost every set released afterwards.

First strike was adopted as an evergreen ability, which means that it may be used in any set and often doesn’t have any reminder text to explain the ability. Artistically, first strike is a keyword to signify that a creature has speed, skill, or can attack from a longer range.

Can You Block a Creature With First Strike?

Yes, you can block a creature with first strike. When declaring blockers, you just have to be aware that a creature with first strike will deal combat damage before a creature without first strike. If the creature with first strike doesn’t deal enough damage to destroy the blocking creature, then on the second damage step the blocking creature will assign its damage.

Does First Strike Work on Multiple Blockers?

It sure does. The attacking creature may divide its damage among all declared blockers. Therefore, if the attacking creature with first strike has enough power to destroy multiple blocking creatures, it will assign its damage in the first strike damage step and destroy the blocking creatures before they assign their combat damage.

Can You Have Multiple Instances of First Strike?

Technically you can have multiple instances of first strike, but this is redundant and does not give any extra benefits. The creature with one instance or multiple instances of first strike still assigns its combat damage on the first damage step.

Does First Strike Hit Twice?

First strike doesn’t “hit” twice. The creature with first strike will assign its combat damage on the first combat damage step. If the creature without first strike survives the first damage step, then it will assign its combat damage on the second damage step. The creature with first strike doesn’t assign combat damage on both damage steps, only on the first one.

How Does First Strike Work Against First Strike?

First strike against first strike is essentially the same as normal combat. Two creatures with first strike that are declared in combat against each other both assign their combat damage on the first damage step. This means that they assign their damage at the same time and the damage acts like normal combat. If the creatures both have enough power to destroy the other one then the creatures will trade and both die.

Can a Creature Have First Strike and Double Strike?

Double strike is an extension of first strike. A creature with double strike assigns its combat damage in both the first and second damage steps. This means if a creature has double strike, it’s redundant to have first strike also. So once again, a creature could have both keywords, but you’ll never see them printed on the same card and it doesn’t change the double strike ability.

Does Double Strike Override First Strike?

Yes, a creature with both double strike and first strike basically just has double strike. You want a creature to have double strike because you get the first strike damage and then another “hit.” Both keywords change the damage step, but double strike brings extra value and damage.

How Does Double Strike Work Against First Strike?

It’s essentially the same concept as first strike against first strike. Both keywords will allow their creatures to assign damage during the first damage step. So, if a creature with double strike and a creature with first strike have enough damage to destroy each other, they will kill each other in the first damage step. If both creatures survive the first damage step, then the creature with double strike will assign its damage again in the second damage step.

How Does First Strike Work With Fight Effects?

First strike doesn’t have an effect on fight spells. First strike allows a creature to assign combat damage on a different damage step than normal combat. Spells that cause creatures to fight aren’t considered combat damage, so the first strike keyword doesn’t change any damage assigned.

How Do First Strike and Deathtouch Work Together?

A creature with first strike and deathtouch may assign the minimal amount of damage to each blocker to destroy those creatures.

For example: I attack with Anaba Bodyguard and my opponent blocks with Abyssal Specter and Ageless Guardian. After blocks have been declared, I play Bladebrand. On the first damage step, my creature will assign one damage to each of the blockers, and because of deathtouch, they’ll both die before assigning their combat damage.

Does First Strike Beat Deathtouch?

If the creature with first strike has enough power to destroy the creature with deathtouch in the first damage step, then yes it will beat deathtouch. The deathtouch keyword works only when damage is assigned, so first strike can beat it when the creature is destroyed during the first damage step.

Does First Strike Stop Trample?

Yes, first strike can stop trample in certain situations. Trample allows a creature to assign damage to a blocker and afterward assign any extra damage to the creature’s owner. Blocking an attacking creature with trample with a creature that has first strike can make sure that no damage is assigned by the attacking creature if it’s destroyed during the first damage step.

Does First Strike Work on Defenders?

Get behind the Wall of Spears! Yes, defenders can have first strike as a deterrent for those overly aggressive decks. First strike generally is more of an evergreen keyword attached to attacking creatures and aggro builds. However, a defender with high toughness and first strike is a tough blocker to get around.

What Happens if a Creature Gets First Strike After the First Combat Damage Step?

If a creature is given first strike after the first combat damage step, then it will deal damage during the second damage step. This means it doesn’t get the advantage of dealing its damage first. First strike needs to be given to a creature before the damage steps begin so that it may assign its damage during the first damage step. A combat trick is to give a creature first strike after blockers have been declared, but not after the first combat damage step.

How Do You Use First Strike in MTG Arena?

MTG Arena automatically initiates the first combat damage step for creatures with first strike. The browser calculates the damage that should be dealt and during which damage step. Sit back and let the browser take care of the calculating for you. Just remember to play your first strike combat trick after blockers are declared and not after damage is applied.

What Are First Strike Counters?

First strike counters can be put on a permanent to give it first strike. Keyword counters were introduced in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Since their inception, they’ve been added to most of the new sets as a way to give your creatures advantages instead of waiting for evergreen first strike creatures.

Elspeth Resplendent

A perfect example is Elspeth Resplendent in Standard. She’s a great card to give some of your strongest creatures the extra boost of striking first.

How Do You Beat First Strike?

The simplest answer to this question is to have a blocker with more toughness than the power of the first strike creature. You can block a first strike attacker and destroy them if the blocking creature survives and on the second damage step has enough power to destroy the attacking creature. Removal spells and damage spells are always great ways to take out any creature as well. An opponent wants to be aggressive when they have creatures with first strike, so to counter this threat you just need to build enough defenses, use removal, or use combat tricks to slow them down.

What Is Firstest Strike?

Firstest strike was a famous hoax perpetuated on messaging boards about a fake card. The card was called Throat Wolf and it was said to be the fastest creature in MTG. Firstest strike allowed the wolf to assign its damage before even a creature with first strike. This “card” gained fame because of its elusiveness and the desire of players to see and use the card.

Many years later, Throat Wolf was printed as a test card in the Mystery Booster set. So, it’s still not technically a Magic card.

Is First Strike Good?

Yes first strike is a useful mechanic for certain deck builds. Many white aggro decks can overpower their opponents when pumping up cards like Baneslayer Angel and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. First strike is an aggressive keyword and therefore can help many aggro builds. I’m also a fan of giving creatures first strike as a combat trick or to put pressure on my opponent. Cards like Maul of the Skyclaves and The Wandering Emperor are fantastic additions to take aggro decks to another level.

Outside of building aggro decks in mostly white and red, first strike doesn’t always bring enough advantage to situations. First strike creatures are still susceptible to all the removal spells unless protected. Control decks will often negate any of the advantages that first strike would give.

Best First Strike Cards

#10. Thoughtweft Trio

Thoughtweft Trio

Thoughtweft Trio is just a fun card, but it isn’t great competitively. It might be fun to have a first strike Modern deck with Thoughtweft Trio, Figure of Destiny, and Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile.

#9. Baneslayer Angel

Baneslayer Angel

Baneslayer Angel sees play in white Commander and Pioneer decks. This angel brings upside to your board presence with first strike and lifelink in the later stages of a game, often as a great way to stabilize against aggro decks.

#8. Parhelion II

Parhelion II

Parhelion II is an expensive card that’s so much more effective if you can cheat it onto the battlefield. Here’s where Mardu () decks running Greasefang, Okiba Boss enter in Pioneer. It’s a powerful combo with the chance of getting the bomb Parhelion II out on turn 3.

#7. Brutal Cathar / Moonrage Brute

Not the strongest of the cards on this list, but a very popular card in Standard. Brutal Cathar is a must-have for white or Boros () aggro lovers out there. It’s easily one of the most popular (and frustrating) cards in Standard at the moment.

#6. Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

Drana, Liberator of Malakir helps pump your creatures whenever it deals combat damage to a player. The flying and first strike keywords will help assure a couple of turns of direct damage. It’s a fantastic addition to many black Commander builds.

#5. Edgar Markov

Edgar Markov

Speaking of Commander builds, Edgar Markov is my top suggestion for a commander with first strike. The number of cards and power that comes with vampire cards makes it a great tribe to pursue. Edgar Markov also has the major benefit of generating creature tokens, even while in the command zone.

#4. Anax and Cymede

Anax and Cymede

The first strike ability fits perfectly into the mold of aggro Boros-style decks. Anax and Cymede is a combat trick beauty. They fit perfectly in creature-heavy decks.

#3. Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist

Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist

Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist is a marvelous way to limit your opponent’s blocking and attacking capabilities, mostly seeing play in Commander.

#2. Halana and Alena, Partners

Halana and Alena, Partners

Halana and Alena, Partners is another Standard darling on this list. It can fit into many of the popular Standard builds now from Naya () Enchantments to Gruul () Modify. This is a card that must be taken care of quickly, otherwise it’ll spiral out of control.

#1. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is a cheap and taxing creature for your opponent to deal with. She sees a lot of play in Standard but can fit into just about any format. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben pairs very well with aggro and creature-centric builds in Standard at the moment.

Decklist: First Strike in Commander

Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire - Illustration by ZOUNOSE

Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire | Illustration by ZOUNOSE

Here’s a Commander deck centered around the first strike keyword. Load the battlefield with many powerful first strike creatures and then bring in your commander, Kwende, Pride of Femeref, to take them to the next level by turning their first strike into double strike.

This deck works by providing a strong combat presence early and then a crushing combat pressure once the commander enters the battlefield. The deck is susceptible to board wipes and heavy removal decks, but it also brings some of its own removal to free the way for attacking creatures. It’s a fun Commander build that can be customized with different white creatures and spells to make it your own.

Wrap Up

Baneslayer Angel - Illustration by Greg Staples

Baneslayer Angel | Illustration by Greg Staples

First strike is an evergreen keyword that we see in every set we have, and rightly so. It’s a great keyword because it adds a dynamic to combat that spices up the game, whether that’s in Limited or Constructed decks.

As always, thanks a lot for reading. If you have any further questions about the first strike, feel free to leave a comment below or talk to us on Twitter.

Stay safe out there, and remember to strike first!

Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates:

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *