Should You Keep Your Case Secret?

Case secrecy is a universal concern, and there isn’t a simple answer to it. Here are some principles to help you decide.

Doing LD? Secrecy Won’t Matter.

Prepping against an opponent’s case is far less useful in value debate than it is in policy, where all negative arguments have to be specific to the affirmative plan. In fact, prepping against a specific value case can often backfire by encouraging you to spend too much time on defense – conceding strategic control – because you have all these cool arguments you want to run.

That means that, even if everyone gets a complete flow of your case, the damage they can do with it is minimal. The exception is if your case is so incredibly unique that it’s unlikely anyone else is following a similar pattern. This early in the year, you have no reason to suspect that your case is special. If it is, you probably shouldn’t even run it at tournaments yet – more on this in a future post.

Exposure Provides Intel

Let’s say your club has you do a showcase round. Do you run your case and let everyone see?

If you run the round with your case, you have a strategic loss and strategic gain.

  • LOSS: Someone sees your case. They write a brief on it.

  • GAIN: You see the brief on your case. You write responses to it.

Let’s put both of these on scales to see which is more important.

Most policy debaters believe the loss outweighs the gain, and refuse to share their case because they’re terrified of others preparing against it. Some would say they’re about on par with each other.

Both would be wrong. I’ll explain why.

  1. The loss is unavoidable. Go to one tournament, and everyone will know your case. Also, people publish case lists. If your case is run even once, it’ll go anywhere people want it to. Exposure is inevitable.

  2. It’s a free diagnostic. By watching them respond, you get to stress-test your case in live rounds and come away with a much deeper understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. You’ll come back knowing how to tweak your refutation and develop to stay ahead of the metagame. That’s incredibly useful and a good enough reason to throw your case against anyone who will practice against you.

  3. Rebuttals > Constructives. The deeper the line of argumentation is, the more valuable knowing it is. In any debate, responses to arguments flow back and forth several times. After the last time (the 2AR), the judge renders a decision.

[1 > 2 > 3 > 4 > Vote!]

Imagine knowing what the 2NR would say before the beginning of the round. This is some time-travel psychology: you’d change your earlier speeches accordingly to make winning effortless. Future intel gets exponentially more valuable in the rebuttals, because if you can stay a step ahead of them, your opponent won’t have any other speeches to recover from your carefully-tailored responses. Speaking of tailoring…

Evolve Your Case

By January, you should either be running a substantially altered case or a completely new one. The metagame evolves; the best known cases, patterns, and applications change. You may test the case in the upcoming practice and decide to throw it out! The point is: you’re not stapled to the case, and by the time someone has prepped something against it, you’ll already have moved on to something stronger.

One Exception

While secrecy usually isn’t helpful, there is an exception: The Surprise Strategy (because I think “surprise” is a more useful term than “secret”). It’s almost always a mistake for value debaters, but policy debaters can get some mileage out of it. In a post coming soon, I’ll detail how to run the Surprise Strategy correctly.

In the meantime, seize the chance to test your case. The worst-case scenario isn’t scary and is definitely not worth starving yourself of valuable intel.