Winning the Debate in the 2NR - Forming a Coherent Strategy

(Please note - this entry is best served to those who debate circuit style. It is not necessarily appropriate for lay style debate)

The second negative rebuttal is considered to be one of the hardest and most important speeches in debate. Time and time again, you will find that the 2NR is often the most decisive speech in the round. In close debates, it can and will serve as the difference between a win or a loss. In a debate the negative is winning, it is the 2NR’s opportunity to write the judge’s ballot.

First, we must consider the penultimate goal of the 2NR. This speech is singular in its purpose - to make strategic decisions that break down the debate into a series of strong, logical arguments that together will win you the round. In other words, the job of the 2NR is to bring the debate into focus. What does this mean?

There is a massive structural difference between the negative block (2NC + 1NR) and the 2NR - the former is 13 minutes long, while the latter is only 5 minutes long. The block has lots of time to discuss a lot of issues, so correspondingly, the 2NR should use what little time they have to comprehensively discuss a few issues. It is a far better idea to talk in-depth about a couple of strong, offensive positions that you are winning most than it is to spread your time extending every blippy argument while leaving yourself with no chance of winning.

In order to accomplish this, after the 1AR, the 2NR must determine which flows they are going to go for and which flows to kick. This is by far the most important decision that the negative team will be forced to make in the entire debate - being able to identify what flows you are winning is a difficult task that is acquired almost exclusively through experience. Debaters must evaluate the round to determine the path of least resistance to the judge’s ballot.

The path of least resistance is exactly what it sounds like - it is the flow or combination of flows that offer the fewest barriers to victory. Generally, it is defined by a combination of strong offensive arguments and effective defensive mitigation. Often times, the 1AR will have failed to sufficiently rebut these flows, which makes determining it easier.

The 2NR also must have a specific, coherent strategy. It’s a bad idea to choose a random combination of flows with no regard to how they interact at the meta-level of the debate - you need to be able to pick out flows that complement each other. Sometimes, it’s best to go for just one position.

Some examples of coherent strategies:

- Topicality. I’ll be very honest - as a judge, if you are going to have topicality in the 2NR, you should only be going for one violation, and it damn better well take up all five minutes.

- Kritik. This is fairly self explanatory - if you are going for a K, you can’t be extending other flows in the debate that link into the K.

- Counterplan + disadvantage. This is one of the more popular combinations - basically, you have a disadvantage to the case and a counterplan that doesn’t link to that disadvantage but solves just as well as the case.

- Case + disadvantage. When you advocate the status quo, you should have offensive reasons why it is bad (disad, case turns) plus defensive arguments on case to mitigate the 1AC impacts. This strategy requires an immense amount of impact calculus to explain why the disads outweigh the aff.

Some examples of incoherent strategies:

- Topicality + anything else (except theory arguments). “But Nick,” you ask, “what if I don’t win topicality? I’ll lose the debate!” This is a common novice sentiment, to which my response is, “Well duh!” Topicality is a must-win issue. If you’re not confident enough that you’re winning topicality to go all in on it, then it would be better that you not discuss it at all. Winning topicality requires a heavy commitment from the negative, and anything less than that is time better spent focusing on other arguments.

- K + anything else (except theory arguments). NEVER ADVOCATE MULTILPLE WORLDS IN THE 2NR. This is one of the most mind-boggling mistakes you can make, yet I see bad teams do it every tournament. You shouldn’t need to be talking about, say, a disadvantage or a counterplan in the 2NR when your kritik operates on an entirely different framework. It’s blatantly contradictory, and smart teams will be able to call you out on it.

- CP + case. This is also an instance of multiple worlds. If you going for a counterplan, that is your advocacy for the round. Putting defensive arguments on the case means you are arguing that the status quo is good, not that the counterplan is good. They don’t complement each other, and it won’t get you anywhere.

Also, there may be some instances where you are winning multiple flows, especially in unevenly matched rounds. In that event, you must still decide on what flows to go for. Go for arguments that have the most concessions on them, arguments that you are comfortable with, and arguments that the judge is partial to. Counterintuitive as it seems, you often must discard entire flows that you are winning in order to strengthen your focus on other winning arguments.

Questions? Comments? Head to the comments section. We’ll talk more about 2NR strategies in upcoming postings, so stay tuned.

- Nick