What To Do When The Affirmative Breaks New

I’ve decided to write this article instead of studying for my midterms. Hello Ohio policy debate.

I’m sure everyone competing this weekend at the state tournament has been working hard, improving their files, cutting cards, writing blocks, etc. One of the things I would expect, as I’m sure you are, is that teams will be writing new arguments.

This article has some helpful tips for being neg when teams break new affs against you, with comments mixed in for all levels of competition, but generally assuming you have qualified to States. Everything comes down to winning the coin toss and being aff, especially on this topic. Just kidding. In the unfortunate event that you must negate, especially in elimination rounds and late prelim rounds, you should expect good teams to break new affs against you.

What does that mean?

It means you will only know what you are debating when the 1AC starts, which gives you a total of 8 + 3 + prep (hopefully very little) to come up with a 1NC that gives you options for successful 2NR strategies.

Instead of reading new affs bad (deterring this is one of the main reasons this article is being written, you know who you are), because how could the debate possibly have any education if they read a new aff, here’s tips for improving your odds at winning the ballot.

First, of all, as is the case with any strategic planning, if we are to put our neg hats on and brainstorm what to do against new affs, we have to think as the aff. This is the case with lots of things in life. In basketball, the defender is always trying to predict what move the offensive player will attempt, in wars, military leaders predict what the adversary would do, etc. You get the point. These don’t translate directly to debate, because speculation can be a big waste of time, but what is not as waste of time is understanding strategic reasons a team would have for breaking a new aff.

Some of this depends on what kind of team you are, and what kind of team they are (even though I hate this type of labeling, the point still applies). If you’ve gone for the same K all year, why would they break a new aff? Maybe advantages in a direction that helps the perm? Maybe it’s all about why ‘x’ is good to impact turn the K of ‘x’ you’ve been attached to since Freshman year? Do you always go for DIB? Maybe the aff has a new angle at a link turn, or maybe this school always breaks the same kinds of things every year. But for the rest of article, I’m talking in general terms about aff/neg strategy (i.e. we’re not going over how to utilize Uniqueness CP strategies when small, new affs press you on link uniqueness because they don’t defend anything).

I came up with a few reasons teams might break a new aff, all with the objective to gain some strategic advantage, to tip the scales in the aff’s balance, and make it hard for the neg (or so they think). This is not a push for you to write a new aff, it takes a long time, it’s not easy, and it may be too late anyways. Regardless, here are a few reasons:

  • Different topic area – if they have researched something in depth that you haven’t, and consequently don’t have a case neg, they will know what they are talking about and you will not know what they are talking about. This is using an aff advantage – they set the terms of the debate, they choose what the debate will be about. Have you neglected to learn about the Latin America section of the topic? The Taiwan stuff? (hopefully not…) Too bad. The aff is ready to talk about it and you might not be.
  • Are teams going to read a different country specific aff? A weapons system specific aff? New affs can be a reaction to a core topic generic DA that is doing very well, so maybe it has different link turn strategies?

To counter a lot of these advantages, the solution has to be practical – if #1 applies, for example, there’s no way you’re going to be able to learn about an entire topic area within such a short amount of time. But the following are tools that utilize inherent advantages that the neg has.

So, enough of talking about the aff, put on your neg hats and let’s brainstorm.

Remember: New affs can be bad a lot of the time. This is true at all competitive levels, if the aff is trying to avoid topic literature with contrived internal links/advantages, or they haven’t had a lot of time to research and prepare the aff (Think about it – if you ran an aff for an entire semester and are switching to a new aff, you have worked, and thought about, and researched everything, aff and neg, about your aff for way longer than this new aff).

Implication: Be confident that you’ve done a lot of topic research and you know stuff as a result. You should hopefully be familiar with the topic mechanisms of these affs, the main advantage theses, solvency mechanisms, circumvention debate, etc.

Most important thing the neg has going for them: Negative generics, and what I mean by that is strategies and pieces of offense that can be applied to several different affirmatives. You need to scratch and claw and fight, using all tools at your disposal (more on this below regarding theory).

One more point is that a lot of these are judge dependent, in that there is no one catch-all formula vs new affs, so for example, for several judges the first strike ‘insert country’ CP/impact turn is not going to be a persuasive 2NR story…remember, the ballot is the only thing that matters.

However, notwithstanding judges and other random variables, here’s the list of specific arguments to prioritize:

  1. Impact Turns: These are very important and popular for that reason, so it’s first on the list. A new aff means new advantages, new internal links, harder things to answer that you will most likely be behind on because odds are they will have more knowledge on those specific issues. However, do you really think the aff will do a lot of innovation on the impact level of the aff? Impact turns, especially if the aff internal links are weak, are extremely powerful because you can win the debate without offcase positions. Heg, dedev, nato, prolif, each can be a round winner (not spark/wipeout/malthus, do not embarrass yourselves and your coaches).
  2. Your DA files need to have turns case arguments for each section of the topic, ready for the overview in the neg block. This is important because if you control the direction of offense in the debate, you win. As a side note to turns case, the best turns case arguments happen in an earlier section of the DA than the impact, like the link, just remember to have a uniqueness argument for each ‘turns the case’ argument.
  3. Process CPs – Conditions, Offsets, etc. Great vs new affs because they steal the aff offense…you’re guaranteed to have a 2NR option, usually with an internal net benefit. This is the great thing about debate – if you are strategic enough in the right places, you can win the debate by being better than the aff on a single argument in a complex debate that might be going on across several sheets. As long as you are better than the aff on perm do the CP/theory, you have a large chance of winning solvency and some risk of the net benefit.
  4. Politics – Usually, the politics DA is the great equalizer, for small programs who can’t keep up with the large amounts of topic research and affs, but, regardless, all teams can benefit from the politics DA vs new affs. That is, under normal circumstances, because it is not doing very well, so the biggest barrier to these currently is the evidence quality (and Trump, among other things). The UQ needs to line up with the link preferably, the impact debate is not the problem here. Take a look at the college and high school wikis for recent tournaments like NDT Districts to see what’s going on in the politics DA world.
  5. Topicality – This is difficult to prepare if you are not already ready to go all in before reading this article, but theoretically, it can be extremely valuable. Mainly, this is because many new affs push the boundaries of what the community has generally accepted as what constitutes ‘the topic’ in terms of what affs are topical. Again, this is one of those things where the neg can put all of their eggs into one basket, and even if they were hopelessly behind on the substance of the debate, if they win T, they win the debate (some would even say by jurisdiction!**)

**They would be wrong.

  1. The K – If you’re like Sam and you just go for militarism in every debate, who cares if it’s a new aff, which just proves the point of including it in this list. Ideally, specific links that turn the case, etc are important, but the K opens up an entirely new set of possibilities to reduce the aff ability to leverage their offense – think framework, prior questions, fiat = illusory (nice FYI…), serial policy failure, all of these things will win debates if the neg wins them properly.
  2. All other general tips against affs that aren’t new still apply, such as reading impact defense, reading impact defense, making sure the advantage CP text is written properly and solves their internal links, reading impact defense, and also reading impact defense.
  3. One opportunity to leverage what you do know of the topic in the event of hitting an aff about an area of the topic you are not familiar with is using other affs as alt causes to solvency – For example, on the college space topic, there are different subsets, or categories, of space policy affs can deal with, so affs that had larger advantages about norms or the Outer Space Treaty broadly could always be answered with alt causes because they did not address issues in the other subsets.

Outside of tips for specific arguments, here is more generic, but still useful, advice:

  1. Stay in your comfort zone. I cannot stress this enough. Just because an argument is on the list above, don’t go for something you’ve never gone for in the 2NR. The aff has shifted the playing field to something they are more comfortable with and feel they have the advantage over you, so you need to try and shift it back to where you are most comfortable. Example: The aff might be blatantly untopical, but if you haven’t gone for T all year (and if they are a good team they will know that their aff has T issues and will invest time into answering it in the 2AC, I hope), they will be more prepared than you, and you will be behind.
  2. In-Round Managing: Assuming you’re in Ohio, or another circuit where pre-round prep is limited to basically none, this is a new aff, you only have those 8 minutes and 3 minutes. Figure out who is reading the evidence to identify options for CPs, case arguments (a powerful analytic is more valuable than a bad card), etc, and who is making the 1NC doc and receiving those instructions (this system should already be second nature to good partnerships).


I’m not forgetting that I mentioned theory above, here are some thoughts:

If you’re neg, a trend recently has been for your leash to be loosened (or completely eliminated, see the national hs/college circuit) in terms of conditionality and what combination of positions you can run, don’t be afraid to say new affs justify more conditional positions, which is something I’m sure some judges will be sympathetic to. However, don’t just rely on that argument, which has potential problems I don’t have time to go into (it’s midterm season).

One brief comment for the 2As reading this: If you’re aff and the neg goes crazy (a large amount of conditional advocacies) and justifies everything with the line, ‘but it’s a new aff’, it’s not like their interpretation of ‘pre-round disclosure’ solves anything because, let’s face it, you barely get any pre-round prep anyway…

Finally, if the aff is pushing the neg on solvency advocate theory, the neg should be confident defending their CPs that are just written during the 1AC are justified if they identify harms/internal links the aff is not intrinsic to solving and say that the CP is just a logical solution that is related to the problem (example: internal link = ‘x’ sector can’t innovate, financial constraints, CP = throw money at it).

I mean, what even is a solvency advocate? Aren’t you, the 2N, ‘advocating’ for it? But since this article isn’t supposed to be a theory back and forth thing, that’s all I have to say.

For Ohio debaters, good luck at States everyone.

Oh wait. One last thing. Don’t say new affs bad – once again, you will be embarrassing yourself, your coaches, your program, not to mention wasting the judge’s time, your speech time, etc.

About The Author:

Leonardo competed in Policy Debate at St. Ignatius HS. He qualified to the OSDA state tournament all four years, advancing to elimination rounds three times, including semi-finals. He also qualified to the NSDA National tournament twice. Currently, Leonardo is a freshman at Cornell University where he is majoring in Philosophy with a minor in Law & Society. In addition, he has continued his career in policy debate at Cornell, claiming the 2020 NDT District VIII JV Regionals Champion title. 

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