For many debaters, they know well in advance of the tournament what they want to go for – whether it’s going for the states counterplan and midterms or the capitalism K, some debaters feel comfortable with one position, and roll with it for the entirety of the topic. This impulse is understandable – when you have one solid option, you can frontline it thoroughly and know it better than your opponents.
However, in this article I’m going to talk about something a bit broader than just diversifying the positions you go for – ideological flexibility can be useful as well. Specifically, policy teams would be well-served by being more comfortable going for the K in some situations, and the reverse is true as well. When a debater’s 2NR choices are predictable, the aff often will take steps to preempt and overcover the likeliest 2NR option, rendering it a path of greater resistance – however, this also makes other options far stronger, in many cases.
The first example I’ll illustrate is for policy debaters who are unwilling to go for the K. Whether due to ideological reasons or insufficient practice, some debaters shoehorn themselves into the same set of strategies, rendering them predictable. Just as a debater who knows their opponent won’t ever go for T will be more willing to read a questionably topical aff, aff teams that know their opponent can’t go for the K will read positions that are strong against policy strategies, but rely on assumptions that are vulnerable to Ks. For example, if the aff expects the neg to go for a PIC/process generic, they’ll likely construct an advantage around the most hardline, sweeping truth claims, in an attempt to frame out any exception the PIC might draw. Alternately, if they expect the neg to go for a DA and case, they might do the same – having an extremely totalizing theory might be useful there. But while these strategies are helpful for beating PICs and DAs, they often open the Aff up to assumptions that are vulnerable to criticism, and the Aff might not have been prepared (or expecting) to defend them.
Nowadays, many debaters have one affirmative they read against policy teams (which often tends to have extinction impacts, and far more totalizing theories about actors/motivations), and then an affirmative that’s more “soft left” against K teams. Because they expect to only debate the K with the latter aff, they often don’t think about how the extinction, hardline impacts work against the K. If you’re presumed to be a policy team and are debating their “policy” aff, flexibility here is a golden opportunity – you can go for the K against an aff with a myriad of critique-able assumptions, and they likely won’t be ready to defend it.
The second example is the flip side of this – if you’re a K team, there’s often strategic upside to being able to go for something other than a K when your opponent isn’t expecting it. This is because of 1AC construction. The 1AR is a hard speech in LD against any position, but particularly against the K – the 1NC has ample time to read several long cards justifying a theory of power, and the 1AR just lacks the ability to match them on that in a 4-minute-long speech. The result is that the aff frequently needs to begin that debate in the 1AC, reading several long, preemptive cards. When debating K teams, policy teams often sacrifice the ability to robustly justify their advantages by reading such intricate preempts to Ks, since there frequently isn’t time for both.
In these situations, the K team might be well-served by going for a policy strategy – against an Aff with 3 minutes of advantages and 3 minutes of K preempts, a 1NC that reads several DAs/CPs, and a big case hit forces the Aff to functionally restart in the 1AR, and gives the neg a huge time advantage. Speaking from personal experience on the other side of this (my senior year of high school I read a 1AC that was half preempts against a well-known high theory debater, and then saw a daunting 1NC that was 2 DAs, T, and a CP with zero kritik), that restart is a challenge for the 1AR.
In conclusion, the impulse towards repetition in 2NR choices is understandable, and the article isn’t even arguing that having a favorite 2NR is undesirable. However, debate is a game of reactions, and when the Aff strategically overcompensates in one direction, being able to reverse strategies can be advantageous.