The devil is in the details 1

There are lots of things in debate people plan and prep for- answering politics, defending their advantage vs a reps K, a generic CP to read against new affs. But there are also lots of issues that come up all the time that almost no one thinks about let alone prepares for/writes blocks about. These will be the topic of this post.


Let’s start with something seemingly simple that vexes many a 2N- pre-empting new 2AR arguments. Now, I will admit- a good deal of this is on judges- stop being bad. In postrounds I will often hear something like ‘you didnt close the door’ when the judge voted on a brand new never before been hinted at aff argument. Bad judge! Now, there is little you can do in situations like that- but that isn’t really what we are talking about. There will always be extreme outliers that disprove the rule, what we are talking about here is what is the best way to insulate yourself from generally shady 2ARs (you know who you are) who trick otherwise good judges into letting a new argument sneak in. How many reading this have a written out 2NR block for this? I’m guessing not many, but this should be in EVERY SINGLE 2NR you give- not just against those snake oil selling 2A’s you know about- always assume the 2A is an evil con artist, because they are!


When I was in HS I saw someone do this, and I basically just memorized it and repeated it: New arguments in the 2AR are the work of the devil and if you vote for them that makes you beelzebub. I didn’t even know who beelzebub was, I just saw someone say it and the judge laughed so I was like “I could steal that”. And so I kept saying that, every 2NR, for like 3 years. I’m sure we probably lost a debate at some point on a new 2AR argument but generally the shaming effect worked.


Then at Novice Nationals my freshman year of college I said it, and our judge (hat tip Joel Rollins) brought it up in the post round. He said something like : Your 2NR on no new arguments was good but not great. What you want to say is that the standard for new 2AR arguments shouldn’t be “is this wholly new” but instead “did your understanding of this argument change radically from the 1AR to the 2AR”. This makes a lot of sense- very rarely are you losing because the 2AR decided to read new impact turns to the cap K. More often the “new” part is adding some crucial bit of explanation to a perm – and this explanation better primes judges to reject that sort of thing. So now we would have:

New 2AR arguments are the work of the devil and if you vote for them that makes you beelzebub. The standard for new argument should not be “is this entirely new” but instead “did your understanding of this argument change radically from the 1AR to the 2AR”.


That 2 sentences can help you avoid a lot of frustration. And it’s by no means perfect- it can obviously be elaborated on /changed- but be honest, for how many of you is the 3 minutes it took to read this post more thought than you have put into this issue? I’m guessing a lot. That’s not necessarily a “bad” thing- there is a lot going on in any given debate, and inevitably something will slip through the cracks. That is , however, all the more reason to think it through in advance.


A long time ago in a galaxy far away I went to the “pro debate tour” round robin and debated with someone who didn’t go to my school/who I had never debated with before. At the end he said to me “its like you have these theory blocks stored in your head that you just spit out on command”. I had never really thought about it, but this was true. The reason this was true is that every year when the topic was over, I would use theory blocks to do speaking practice and eventually after reading “sever perms are a VI” 500 times I had it memorized and didn’t need to look for/find the block anymore. Similarly , that’s how you want to treat issues like this- write them out, make them efficient, then read over and over until its internalized and you don’t need to think about it. Then when a debate comes up where you need it, its there. So as this series of post moves forward take a few minutes each day to do that and start working it into your practice rotation and by TOC it will be second nature.


So let’s look at a few more recurring “hard cases”.

1.How to evaluate permutations


Most perm debates are… well lets be honest, awful. They usually go like this

2AC: Perm do both, perm do the CP, perm do the plan then the CP….

2NC: The permutation either severs or it links so like… neg

1AR: Extend a perm- I’m not going to say which one-#drama!

2NR: The perm links!

2AR: nah we went for the sever perm- lolz!

Judge: Aff

3NR: 😦


So what can you do here? Well this isn’t entirely a speech issue, so the first thing you should do is get a text for every permutation if it isn’t in the doc- this isn’t a be all end all, but its a crucial first step.


Now, what do you do in your speeches? A few things

1.If the other team does something/debates a certain way, and you don’t like it… say something. What is the worst that can happen? The judge doesn’t vote on it? Who cares. Most of the time when there are a ton of blippy arguments the judge feels the same way you do and will be more likely to cut you some slack if you address the elephant in the room. So start with something like


” A coherent argument needs a claim, warrant, and evidence- these permutations don’t pass the test. Late breaking debates favor the affirmative because they get the last speech- don’t let them blow one of these fortune cookies up into a coherent argument later”

You could add something about 2AC dictating block strategy if you like. Point being- make an issue of what you think is a bad practice- and this doesn’t just apply to perms – if you think the 2AC was unclear or something- say something. Don’t just complain after the round that the judge voted on something you couldn’t understand. Here is the thing- many people in debate, students and judges, just want to avoid confrontation. There is nothing uniquely wrong with that , it’s just a fact. If a judge is under the impression that all 4 debaters (and maybe other judges on the panel) all believe the round is going well and perfectly clear, they are less likely to want to say something/interject. However, if they know they aren’t alone in being confused/lost-they will be more likely to say something/rule in your favor.


2. Framing – this has been brought up before on here but any crucial argument, something that can decide a debate like a perm, needs framing work. By “framing” I mean arguments that instruct a judge how to resolve competing claims on that issue. So on a permutation we are generally dealing with competition- which is make or break for the CP- and we are generally referring to competition via net benefits (though not always). So essentially what the judge is deciding is two fold

A. Does the permutation solve/mitigate the link in some way

B. Is that enough to vote affirmative


Framing arguments are ways to resolve competing points on A or B in your favor- and can be made for the aff and the neg. Let’s start with the neg because honestly aff you suck.


Essentially when neg vs a permutation like this you want to make the basic offense/defense framing argument. The way I learned this was debating two topics in a row where the states CP was 90% of debates. In all of those debates the 2NR would say something like this

“The CP solves 100% of the case, so any risk of politics means you vote neg- a policy maker would never risk it”.


This isn’t perfect- but it gets at the heart of the issue in a way vastly superior to many 2NRs(even in college) right now.


Essentially the argument you are making is that permutations are “risk” issues. I.E. there is some “risk” the perm links absent an offensive argument from the affirmative about why the perm is better than the CP. This is then combined with the idea that a rational policy maker would never incur 1% risk for no reason, so barring an offensive justification for the perm the judge should err neg. This has the function of lowering the bar substantially for how much the perm has to link for the judge to vote neg. So in the 2NR you would say something like


“Evaluate the perm through the lens of risk- a rational policy maker would never take a chance on an inferior option, similarly even o.001% risk is sufficient to vote negative because the CP solves the entire case”


Now obviously there are many things here that could be elaborated/gone into in more depth.  Whether or not you want (or need) to go further will depend on the round- if the 1AR said very little this is probably enough comboed with your above no new in the 2AR block.


What about for the aff? Well this is a little trickier. Essentially for the aff you need to make an argument that sounds a lot like “reasonability”- essentially that the judge should have a high threshold for voting on a risk of a link to the perm .These arguments basically boil down to what vision of debate is encouraged by voting aff or neg, for example

-does voting negative encourage cheesy plan inclusive strategies

-does it encourage them to focus on mainstream, heart of the topic disadvantages or the margins

-does it encourage the affirmative to make smart, logical arguments or rely on outlandish impact turns


Why are these questions relevant? Well let’s illustrate with an example- the Lopez CP. For those who don’t know, Lopez is a trick you apply to the states CP. There are some pesky things the states can’t do – like interstate commerce, reservation policy, the military etc. What the Lopez CP does is take these areas of exclusive federal jurisdiction and devolve them to the states- so the CP has the court rule “you know what- states CAN regulate military pollution” or some other such nonsense.

Now what does this mean for aff prep?

1.Arguments that you shouldn’t have to spend time on because they don’t apply (the states cp) now need to be researched. Not only that, but this research will be especially hard because most policy makers in the real world wouldn’t consider such nonsense as the CP

2. Disads that previously could be ignored via a thumbs down motion (Federalism) now have to be researched/engaged

3. Most importantly- the weakest parts of those disads (link/uniqueness) is now IRRELEVANT because the CP essentially fiats them. If you read a military aff and the neg read states and federalism you would blow it off- there is no link to federalism because the military is an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction. But now you can’t do that


So why does this matter ? Well your framing argument should be this is a bad model of debate, and if that model is encouraged by “risk” framing of the permutation, than that framing is bad. So when you extend the perm in the 1AR (need to start early) you want to do some framing of your own

“Don’t vote on any risk- that encourages a model of debate where contrived arguments reign over quality topic literature. Any risk encourages the neg to flee to the margins to avoid clash and creates disparate research burdens by artificially inflating the risk of bad disads”


Again, could be elaborated more, but that 1 sentence is more than 99% of 1AR’s do. Essentially you are just trying to establish a reasonable, minimum threshold for which the net benefit must “link” to the perm- something higher than .000001%


Now obviously there are levels- if the other side does more than average, you need to do the bare minimum. And other perms can be framed as well in terms of theory (what is legitimate vs illegitimate intrinsicness), impact calculus (what if a K perm resolves the consequential impact but not the ethics impact to the K) etc.



3. Aff ground vs Neg ground. This one comes up a lot in T/theory – the idea that one side in debate holds a built in advantage over others. You have probably heard something like this

“the affirmative gets the first and last speech, right to chose case area and plan wording, and infinite prep”

“the neg gets the block and multiple conditional options”


That’s usually it. Again, these aren’t bad, but more can be done. Let’s say the aff has broken a new case, the neg is going for a process CP and the aff is going for pics bad.


Assuming the neg said what was above, to give a responsive account of neg bias the aff needs to go further and say something like

“Err aff on theory- the CP is prepared in advance and generic which captures infinite prep time. Plan inclusive nature moots the 1AC negating area and plan choice. The fact that the neg can introduce multiple conditional process strategies that moot the 1AC makes an aff win impossible- all we can do is impact turn the net benefit which puts us at a huge time disadvantage given the block”


Or the neg could say

“New aff’s uniquely justify conditional and plan inclusive strategies. Lets be honest- this isn’t a quality case, its strategic value comes from surprise. Its not reasonable to expect the neg to prepare case negs to every potential aff, so we have to rely on generics like PICS and given aff research advantages they have to be conditional in case there is an argument we haven’t anticipated- which would end the debate after the 2AC”


Again, neither is perfect, but both are SO MUCH better than what you generally hear.



If you have specific issues like this you’d like to see in future editions let me know in the comments/on FB







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