How To Win NSDA Nationals In LD: By Jo Spurgeon

Catchy title, right? But unlike your cases, there’s no warrant. No one-trick takes you from novice to national champion overnight. So to all of you looking for that kind of blog post, I’m sorry I can’t provide you solace. I can, however, give you some ideas on the best ways to maximize this last week of prep, because as all of us know, the road to Nationals is nearly upon us. 

General Strategies:

While cases hopefully are written at this point, there is still some relevance to discussing general strategies for thinking through common arguments and framing your constructive. On the AFF, the most obvious and strategic AC is a medical necessity case that combines practices like lockdowns, data sharing, and vaccination requirements in a single narrative about the importance of using temporary restrictions to prevent the loss of life. I know I’d be the odd woman out at Champion Briefs, but I strongly discourage running a more creative affirmative: gun violence, climate change, etc. The reason for this is you will be forced to defend topicality in the 1 AR which will take time and force the debate away from the effectiveness of pandemic policies. Bottom line: If it hasn’t been declared a PHE by the World Health Organization and over half of the debate will be gripping about whether the AFF is even topical, don’t run it. 

Similarly, on the NEG, I’d also lean towards a framework of medical necessity. The key difference on the NEG though, is whether coercive or voluntary measures are the best way to fight pandemics. Here the most powerful NEGs will be in the basic DA/CP format. On the DA, NEGs have a few options. They can argue that coercive policies hurt minorities, lead to democratic backsliding, or erode trust in medical institutions. On the CP they can advocate for pandemic prep or voluntary measures. The key on the NEG though is you MUST articulate how you plan to fight PHEs. The answer can not be to do nothing, especially as a global pandemic rages around us.

Final Case Touches:

I call this section “Final Case Touches” and not “Case Writing” for a reason. At this point, you’re simply looking at final tweaking to make the cases as tight as possible. Your general contentions should not change, as you don’t have time to be well researched enough to have air-tight defenses. That being said, a few last-minute edits and updates are welcome, and there are a few strategies to ensure that this final week is productive. 

  1. Know the most common responses back to all your contentions and card your second lines. This is especially imperative on the AFF since in the 1 AR efficiency is key. 
  2. Think of example countries that implemented your hypothetical policies. If you’re running that voluntary lockdowns are more effective than mandatory ones, you need to have a few example countries that saw results. Hint: Sweden is not your friend here. This becomes important both in cross and also as an analytic in rebuttal speeches. 
  3. Keep your research up to date. If you have a card from 2020 about the effectiveness of a certain country’s COVID response, you need to make sure that those strategies are still working in the country’s second wave. Similarly, if your research doesn’t feature the new variants that is something to consider for impact analysis on the AFF. 

Quick Block Strategies

Though I will never endorse quick fixes in debate, maximizing remaining prep time this week is key. While a month ago, I would have been advocating for every author, topic area, country, and pandemic example, to be fully carded, this is unrealistic with the time remaining. There are, however, a few ways to quickly fill in the areas you may be lacking. 

  1. Arguably Topical AFFs. Several brief companies have included more creative affirmative strategies in their briefs: gun violence, climate change, air pollution, etc. Though in an ideal world each of those areas would have about 5-8 specific cards to choose from when responding, late in the game you need something general. This means writing a block of analysis about why the PHE cited isn’t topical and a card about how expanding the definition of public health emergency is problematic (Gostin, 2001). 
  2. “New arguments.” It is possible at Nationals that you will hit a debater who either runs a contention, country, or example you haven’t heard of. There are two things to keep in mind here. First, obscure arguments are normally obscure for a reason. Ask pointed questions on cross and generally, the argument falters pretty quickly. Second, figure out what the argument is similar to. If you have responses to racial discrimination NEGs and your opponent is running gender discrimination, many of your general cards will still respond to their narrative. The same is true for new countries. If you don’t have a specific card against Turkish COVID policies, but you have one that criticizes authoritarian responses in general, it still works. 

Response Practice:

There is this theory that several novices (and unfortunately some varsity debaters) have that simply piling on arguments in a laundry list fashion is a way to force drops and win rounds. Please do not do this at NSDA. The best debaters at NSDA have 2-3 well-carded arguments with analysis back to each contention. The strategic reason for this is obvious. Not only do longer responses stick in the judge’s head better, but it’s also harder to quickly dismiss arguments that are explained well. 

For pattern-oriented thinkers like me, there is a method to this madness. If you go back and watch old NSDA final rounds, most debaters follow the same formula: DA, solvency hit, CP. Here’s an example surrounding the eminent domain climate change case.

  1. Low income and minority communities face more government threats from eminent domain making the impact unequal (Beideman, 2007).
  2. Eminent domain law has been used to seize land for fossil fuel companies and recently has been used to block renewable energy development, making solvency at best debatable for the AFF (Kempe, 2021).
  3. The main reason that eminent domain is being used is to protect coastal cities from rising sea levels caused by climate change. Focusing on the root cause of the problem and investing in renewable energy is more effective and can be done without violating civil liberties (Amin, 2018).

Narrative Storytelling:

Now before I begin, no this is not an appeal to sacrifice empirical examples and analysis for flowery language and simple analogies. Rather, it’s a push to present complex scientific and policy issues in a way that is digestible to your audience. Remember your analysis that the E484K mutation allows COVID-19 to avoid protection with the body’s normal monoclonal antibody response will fall on deaf ears if your audience doesn’t understand what the E484K mutation is. Though narrative building is often explained in an obscure way there are some concrete strategies to this.

  1. Do a practice round and have someone watch who doesn’t know the topic. Afterward, ask them to summarize the arguments you read in case and your rebuttal speeches. If their summary matches your intentions, great. If not, ask about their interpretation and figure out how to present your information differently. 
  2. Be able to summarize your case in one sentence. This forces you to understand how all your arguments interact and connect to your central thesis. What do lockdowns, open data sharing, and vaccine mandates have in common? They mitigate the loss of life. This quick synthesis allows you to frame the debate as a conflict of two competing narratives instead of an amalgamation of dozens of moving pieces. Debaters whose voters focus on the key points of clash are far more likely to break and win close rounds because the judge gets a clearer picture of the debate in their heads.
  3. Film rebuttal redos. I know no one likes to watch a video of themself, but things that are clear to us don’t always come across that way to our audiences. The most important things to be asking yourself as you listen to these videos are the following: Do the arguments I put on these contentions make sense? Do they make sense together? Is there a single narrative throughout the speech or are the arguments disjointed? If time is an issue, playing back rebuttal redos is also a way to figure out exactly where you have an extra sentence that can be cut or your response isn’t succinct.


Yes, I know. People like to claim a strict divide between speech and debate events. The issue with this, though, is that many of the skills you learn in speech, cater nicely to debate. People who are smoother speakers, modulate their voices, and can at least feign interest in what they are saying are subconsciously more memorable and more persuasive. For those rare debaters that do theatre this section of advice should come naturally, but to debaters whose only speech event was Extemp, this gets harder. But fear not, there are some concrete ways to practice this.

  1. Read your cases out loud and film yourself. When listening back to the constructive, pay attention to eye contact (with the camera), inflection, clarity of naming and tags, volume, and pacing. Essentially you are going for the opposite delivery of the stereotypical policy debater crouched over their laptop stand.
  2. Prewrite your expected voters. If your narrative is clean this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to predict. Generally, my advice is to have 2: one that never changes and is the thesis of your case, and one that responds directly to the thesis of your opponent. For example, if your AFF is medical necessity and you’re hitting a voluntary measures NEG your voters will probably sound something like this: 
    1. The first voter is mandatory measures. The NEG fails to articulate a single country where voluntary measures for COVID-19 worked and gives no solvency for countries that were more resistant like the US. 
    2. The second voter is medical necessity. Both sides agree that saving lives matters, but the insistence on quibbling over restrictions on liberty only slows down our response. If COVID has taught us anything it’s that early restrictions on civil liberties are necessary before it’s too late. 

The reason I suggest prewriting voters is two-fold. First, it makes it less stressful to come up with mid 2 AR, and it’s more likely that your delivery will be stronger. Prewritten voters also generally end with what sounds more like a concluding sentence instead of an abrupt end. 


The final note to keep in mind for NSDA is to read a case you believe is right, not a case you’re only reading for strategy, but one where you truly buy the arguments you present. These kinds of cases are not only easier to research but lead to better delivery. Even with the most theatrical debaters, you can detect a hint of insincerity if they don’t believe in the arguments they read. While the Nats topic may seem to cater to a strictly scientific debater, it’s not a stretch to make connections to other fields. If public health emergencies themselves don’t spark passion, find something that does. Be it democratic principles, minority rights, or god forbid, Libertarianism, run the arguments in case you believe are correct. That’s the closest to a quick fix strategy I can give you: passion is persuasion. 

Best of luck to all who are competing. 🙂 


Amin, A. Z. (2018). Renewables Are The Key To A Climate Safe World. IRENA: International Renewable Energy Agency.

Beideman, C. E. (2007). Eminent Domain and Environmental Justice: A New Standard of Review in Discrimination Cases. Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, 34 (2), 273-302.

Gostin, L. O. (2001). Public Health, Ethics, and Human Rights: A Tribute to the late Jonathan Mann. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 29(1), 121-130.

Kempe, Y. (2021). Eminent Domain Benefits Fossil Fuels – Could It Also Help Renewables? Grist.

About The Author: Jo Spurgeon competed in both speech and debate events for three years, and now is a private coach for DFW Speech and Debate. Jo qualified for the NSDA National tournament in Original Oratory in 2019 and Lincoln Douglas debate in 2020. Her senior year she also finished as the 2020 NSDA Lincoln Douglas National Champion, making her the first Oregonian to win that title in the history of the tournament.

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