The Hell 1AR: How to Win Rounds You Shouldn’t Have by Akhil Jalan

The 1AR, as we all know, is no picnic. Devastating 1NC time skew and the ability to collapse to one under-covered issue in the 6-minute 2NR means that the 1AR is usually daunting, and many difficult rounds are lost during its desperate scramble to cover everything. This article will consider strategic considerations that will make your 1ARs fearsome and mean that coin flips will no longer determine your fate as a debater.

Crafting Offense: 2 key ideas should influence strategic thinking before the 1AR –

Collapsing: The strategic value of a multiple-off 1NC is that there are multiple sources of offense, and the neg can collapse to one. Turning all of the neg’s positions takes away the 2NR ability to collapse, since if there are turns to all of their positions, the 2NR risks 2AR collapse on a different issue. The 2NR must then either give a split 2NR, or collapse to one issue and go for defense on the others. This gives the 2AR the ability to collapse, and now time allocation goes 3-3, instead of 6-3. However, 1ARs often make the fatal mistake of allowing 2NR collapse by only generating defense on certain positions. The subsequent neg collapse, and the relative time allocation created as a result, is what makes the 1AR so difficult, and is at the heart of most neg strategies.

Layering: The 1AR should re-layer the debate in their favor by isolating which flows they are most likely to win offense on, and arguing that those flows come first. For example, a 1NC that reads a K, DA, and an NC has generated 3 new layers and the AC is now the 4th. The strategic 1AR will either kick the bottom layers (the AC) or re-layer to the place where their offense is the strongest. In this case, they might go for theoretical reasons to prefer the AC framing, which takes out the K and NC, leaving only the DA.

Consider 1AR Theory: While frivolous theory is almost never a good idea, justified 1AR theory arguments serve both of the functions listed above quite well. They are the highest layer, and generate a new source of offense. There are 2 scenarios for 1AR theory:

Scenario 1. The neg has initiated theory

In this case, 1AR theory is a much easier way to generate offense on the theory layer than fighting for an RVI.

Going for a 1AR RVI allows the 2NR to collapse, since the 1AR has to win both the shell and that an RVI is justified, allowing a 2NR collapse on either issue. Furthermore, the 1AR might do too good of a job justifying the RVI, forcing the neg to collapse to the interp debate on theory. This might be favorable to the aff, especially if the 1NC interp was dumb to begin with, but 6 minutes is quite a lot of time to spin a story, and the 1AR presumably allocated less than 2 minutes on the counter-interp itself – a devastating skew.

Therefore, we are left with either accepting the 2-1 burden of theory and substance, or must initiate 1AR theory shell. The former is quite unattractive, but might be considered if a 1AR is confident that they can efficiently cover the shell and do not fear a 6 minute 2NR collapse on that argument. This might be true in many situations – after all, some theory arguments are just plain stupid.

However, introducing a source of offense on the highest layer seems most likely to be preferable. The primary consideration in introducing the shell is whether you are likely to win on it or not, but there are other factors to consider –

Introducing offensive 1AR theory will also incentivize the neg to collapse to the theory layer, especially if they have read theory-framing arguments that have made theory easier to win. The 1NC has likely already read drop the debater and competing interps, shutting off reasonability and drop the argument as avenues for the 2NR.

One rare exception to this situation might be if the neg marks a nuance in whatever harm their theory is criticizing that warrants rejecting the debater, while all other theory is only a reason to reject the argument. This might occur if the neg initiates T as a reason to reject the debater, but argues that their warrants don’t apply to theory at large.

In this situation, I have a few recommendations:

First, while there is another functional layer now (winning reject the debater,) the neg’s reasons to reject the argument will likely contradict their arguments for rejecting the debater, meaning it may still be worth your while to initiate theory.

Second, marking a briteline at which point theoretical harms warrant rejecting the debater is somewhat arbitrary. This makes justification difficult, and the neg only has one speech (the NR) to do so, at which point the 2AR may contest this briteline.

Third, given the rarity of such situations, judges are likely to follow their intuitions and whichever debater makes the more reasonable-sounding claim is likely to be ahead on this issue. In this case, explaining why the impact of theory should be reciprocal for both debaters shouldn’t be too difficult.

Scenario 2. The neg has not initiated theory

1AR theory in this case should be less likely. Here is how this situation is distinct from one in which the 1NC has initiated theory –

1AR theory is usually annoying to most judges. In fact, most theory is annoying to most judges. If the 1NC has already initiated theory, judges will blame the neg more for letting the debate go to hell, so to speak. However, in this situation there have been no theory arguments until the 1AR. This means that perceptually, the 1AR will be held to a higher standard of proof than the 1NC when introducing a theory argument, especially if it’s a reason to reject the debater. After all, the 1AC has introduced terms for a debate that the 1NC has kindly substantively engaged in. The 1AR has chosen to complain instead of defending their case.

In the absence of 1NC theory, the neg has yet to take a stance on theoretical framing issues such as reasonability and reject the argument. Reasonability makes a 2AR theory collapse fairly difficult (especially due to perception), and reject the argument is terminally defensive to theory. A strategic 2NR could, therefore, collapse to a substantive issue that is easy to win, and then generate multiple layers of defense on theory.

The 1AR, properly crafted, can be a speech that wins rounds, not just loses them. Layering and generating strategic offense are a key part of any speech, but in such a relatively short speech, they are paramount.

Pick Your Battles: Some substantive issues, despite the amount of time we can seemingly fill talking about them, come down to simple things. Is the counterplan mutually exclusive? Does the DA really link? Are the AC and the K alt compatible?

In the 1AR, debaters should be especially keen to issues such as these and pick their battles. You might have great solvency indicts to the CP, but in a time-crunched situation, perhaps making the 5-second permutation and moving on is better.

The two concerns that should influence this decision are relative time allocation and argument efficiency. 

Relative time allocation is a separate issue from the sheer amount of time spent on an issue – answering a 5-second argument in 10 seconds is not good, while answering a 1-minute argument in 10 seconds is excellent. 1AR’s should aim for a relative time allocation of at least 2:1. This is primarily achieved by kicking large swaths of arguments to enable more effective coverage, but can also be done through big-issue arguments. This introduces the other concept –

Argument efficiency refers to the “bang for your buck” that an argument gets in terms of relative time allocated. For example, 2 RVI arguments take roughly 15 seconds in the 1AR. However, if a 2NR is going to collapse to substance, they might allocate 2 minutes on those 15-second RVI arguments, thoroughly covering them in the line-by-line to ensure the 2AR cannot win them. While this is an extreme example, the idea applies more generally to most 1AR arguments. Even if an argument might not win you the entire round (a reasonability argument, for instance), baiting an over-zealous 2NR into allocating heavily on a lightly covered 1AR issue goes a long way in making the 2AR easier.

The more common way argument efficiency plays into a good 1AR is making the right arguments, not just the most. The more confident you are on a specific issue, the fewer arguments you should have to make. While the 2NR can take the leisure to slow down and 5-point everything, the 1AR’s primary goal should be to get as much out of each second as possible. Once it becomes less strategic to make a new response than it does to move on, it’s time to move on.

What things, you may ask, can tell me how to identify these?

Consider the Judge and the Neg: Many 1NC arguments are time-sucks that will almost certainly not make it to the 2NR. While risky, 1ARs must choose to undercover something or they will certainly undercover everything. Furthermore, many judges will give the aff credence on certain issues that they are not favorable to. In front of a judge that doesn’t like frivolous theory, reasonability and reject the argument might be better strategies than the RVI – especially if your opponent doesn’t usually go for theory.

Consider Choke Points: What arguments are necessary steps to win their ballot story? Most arguments will have these clearly labeled for the debaters’ benefits. A DA needs to win uniqueness, links, and an impact. A Kritik needs to win a link, impact, and alternative. However, usually each section of argument contains multiple assumptions that can be attacked. Rather than making one defensive argument to each section of an off-case, the 1AR might more strategically spend all of their time on 1 particularly weak section of a position (impact turns to a DA, for instance).

This has the added benefit of allowing more time for argument development and reverses the allocation skew. Usually, negs will be able to spend more time on each individual argument than the aff – however, if the aff collapses to one section, then they can spend 2 or even 4 times the time the 1NC did, forcing an early collapse on an issue the aff is probably ahead on.