The Surprise Strategy Guidebook (Part Two)

Last time we covered the first three keys of executing the Surprise Strategy. Here are the final three.

4. Trying to prep against it just makes it stronger.

The best way to counter the Surprise Strategy is to take a deep breath, let go of the lack of evidence, and depend on what was always your best weapon: logic. But most policy debaters are so dependent on evidence that they overcompensate for the lack of it in ways that sabotage their success. Picture these scenarios:

First day of the tournament. The 1N has never heard of this case before and doesn’t have a solid theory foundation from which to build arguments. His panicked speech turns into: “Under this harm, we don’t know this specific number, or that specific thing, and that evidence could be newer.” He manages to go all eight minutes without asserting any negative advocacy.

Second day of the tournament. When the negative sees your name on postings, they go to a clubmate who has traded for a flow of your case. They prep a few arguments against it in advance, including the obligatory topicality argument. They don’t listen as closely as they should to the actual 1AC and half of the negative arguments wind up not applying.

Third day of the tournament. When the negative team’s name is announced to hit you in outrounds, they’re swarmed by well-wishers and clubmates. They’ve seen you, they’ve seen your case, and everyone has advice on how to beat you. Most of the advice is unusable – after all, it’s coming from people who just finished losing to you – and the sheer information overload makes it hard for the negative to think on their feet during the round. Their muddled efforts to incorporate all the advice that got makes for jumbled, confusing advocacy.

Fourth day of the tournament. Someone didn’t break and stayed up all night researching your case. When he finds out who you’re up against in finals, he seeks them out and hands them the ten-page brief. They spend half the 1AC sifting through it instead of listening. They don’t know the evidence and they’re not running it correctly. It’s not even great evidence to begin with. They contort their argumentation to cram the brief into the round, which makes them simply look like a knockoff affirmative team with weaker arguments and evidence.

You get the idea. Don’t be intimidated when you see people talking about your case or even coming up with early briefs against it. You love it when that happens. Negatives are at their best when they’re listening carefully, thinking critically, and using a brief that they already know well. Anything that interferes with that helps you.

5. Counterpicking is a way of life.

At one tournament, my partner and I ran one case in prelims, broke to outrounds, and ran a different case every outround on the way to the final. The sheer volume of cases we had prepared meant we could handpick based on the judges and opponents.

Counterpicking is an important enough subject to merit its own blog post. More on this in the future.

6. It’s a lot of work.

My partner did a lot of the heavy lifting on finding case ideas and researching them; I was the case writer. In my debate binder, I would leave a paper slip with this quote from Ed Macauley:

“When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”

My partner and I’s intense motivation to do the work before each tournament laid the foundation for our success. By the time the year was done, we’d produced close to 200 pages of affirmative evidence alone. Without it, the strategy simply wouldn’t have worked. We would have been running a lot of low-quality cases when we could have been running one high-quality one.

That’s the big takeaway I want you to have from this post. The surprise strategy is very effective, but you should be intimidated by the work required to pull it off. But if you can pull it off, get ready for a season full of more wins and more fun than ever.