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This is getting into some nitpicky corners of the rulebook.

First Strike damage and normal combat damage are dealt at separate times, and I believe there is a chance between the two resolving to play instants and other effects.

Does this mean that Swift Justice (for example) can be used to cause a creature to deal no combat damage in a turn?

  1. First Strike damage is assigned and resolved (my opponent's creature does not have first strike, and therefore deals no combat damage during this step).
  2. I cast Swift Justice on my opponent's creature.
  3. Normal combat damage is assigned and resolved (my opponent's creature does have First Strike, and therefore deals no combat damage during this step).

Does this work if there are no creatures in combat that have First Strike normally? (i.e. Do we skip the First Strike damage step if no creatures have First Strike?)

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To answer you tag-on, there is only one combat damage step if nobody has any first- or double- strike as it begins. "First Strike Damage Step" is no like, a separate type of step, there are just two combat damage steps on a turn it's on the board. –  Affe Feb 5 '13 at 18:32
    
If that did work it would be completely horrible for flavor. "you weren't fast enough to deal first-strike damage earlier, but now you are, therefore you can't do any damage at all" –  Sam I am Feb 5 '13 at 19:59
    
@SamIam I'm not really a flavor player. I like to find wonky rules interactions. Unfortunately, those seem much rarer to come by now that combat damage doesn't use the stack. –  StrixVaria Feb 5 '13 at 20:13
    
@StrixVaria: I don't remember pre-double strike, but double strike originally codified the damage step as "All creatures with double strike or creatures that did not deal damage during the first strike combat step deal damage now". Give or take some paraphrasing. –  Guvante Feb 5 '13 at 20:15
    
@StrixVaria if you think wonky rules interactions are rarer to come by now simply because combat damage doesn't use the stack, then you aren't looking hard enough. ;) –  ghoppe Feb 5 '13 at 20:37
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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Long story short, no: you can't give a creature First Strike after the first strike combat damage step in order to stop it dealing damage. It will deal its damage as soon as it gets a reasonable window of opportunity.

Here's the relevant portions of the Comprehensive Rules:

702.7b If at least one attacking or blocking creature has first strike or double strike (see rule 702.4) as the combat damage step begins, the only creatures that assign combat damage in that step are those with first strike or double strike. After that step, instead of proceeding to the end of combat step, the phase gets a second combat damage step. The only creatures that assign combat damage in that step are the remaining attackers and blockers that had neither first strike nor double strike as the first combat damage step began, as well as the remaining attackers and blockers that currently have double strike. After that step, the phase proceeds to the end of combat step.

702.7c Giving first strike to a creature without it after combat damage has already been dealt in the first combat damage step won't prevent that creature from assigning combat damage in the second combat damage step. Removing first strike from a creature after it has already dealt combat damage in the first combat damage step won't allow it to also assign combat damage in the second combat damage step (unless the creature has double strike).

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It's interesting that, were this not specifically covered in 702.7c, the tactic proposed in this question could only be used when at least one creature that already had first/double strike was involved in the combat, since the second damage step only exists if that's true during the first. –  Samthere Feb 7 '13 at 15:48
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