Maximizing the 1NR's potential

Preface: I was both a 1n and 2n in college, anything I write in defense of the 1n comes from the unbiased perspective of helping the negative win more debates.

The 1nr is the second most important speech the negative will give in the debate. There, I said it, deal with it. You’re crazy Roy!!, the 1nr, that 5 minute 3rd negative constructive? We can all agree that the 2nr is not only the most important negative speech but maybe the hardest speech in debate, but how can that 5 minute third negative constructive possibly be the second most important negative speech after that? The better question is how have people spent so long missing that truism? Hopefully I can convince you all below about the importance of this speech, and then how to more effectively give that speech

Why the 1nr is so important?

First, the 1nr just has as ton of prep. If we assume that the average prep used before the 2nc is 3 minutes, then you can assume the 1nr will have about 14 minutes to prep for their speech (3+8+3). That’s right, the negative has a speech where they have 14 or so minutes to read, analyze and deconstruct an opponent’s evidence. Time to re-read your own evidence, and prep out distinctions between your argument and your opponent’s arguments.

Second, as many of you all might have picked up on, there is no cross-x after the 1nr. Unlike the cross-x of the 2nc where a wily 2a is able to pick apart holes in the negative strategy, the inability to cross-x the 1nr means it is all on the 1ar to point out the problems, logical inconsistencies or lies of the speech. If the 2a embarrasses the 2n, the 1ar can reference the cross-x in the speech rather than needing to really devote time to explaining the arguments, that is not the case in the instance of the 1nr.

Finally, the 1ar gets 3 minutes free minutes of prep during the cx of the 2nc, so “sandbagging” some of the more prep intensive / important arguments to the 1nr also means the aff would either need to take more prep on issues, or just neglect them.

Optimizing the 1nr

Now that we know why the 1nr is such a dangerous tool for the negative, I’ll talk about how to make sure the 1nr gets utilized in an effective manner.

Pre-1nr: All negative teams go into the debate with a certain idea of what the block is going to look like, after the 2ac is done giving their speech the negative should take 10-20 seconds of prep time to discuss what the 2n is going to take and what the 1nr is going to take. After you all have figured that out the 1n should start cross-xing the 2a on the issues they are going to take. This is important for a couple of reasons, first you don’t crap the 2n’s style. If you start asking about stuff the 2n is going to take you might be holding evidence back from your partner who is prepping or might be asking about stuff your partner does not want discussed. Focus that cross-x on what you actually do plan on taking effectively starting your speech during the cross-x

A big point of contention is always about how the negative block should be distributed. Ineffective block distribution is the silent killer for negative win percentages. Poor block distribution makes it easier for good 1as to figure out what the negative is going for and allocate their time on the only viable negative strategy.  The most +expected value (+ev) block distribution for the negative is one in which the 1nr takes a position that the 2a had read a decent amount of evidence on, allowing the negative to respond to those card directly. The problem with the 2n taking these positions is that 2nr prep time is extremely valuable, 2ns cannot afford to spend minutes of time reading 2ac evidence, giving those sheets of paper to the 1nr ensures you get evidence comparison + prep time left for the 2nr.

On the college treaties topic back in 2003 I heard about something that really changed my mind on how to optimize the 1nr (I’m sure this was done earlier but one of my first encounters with it). The University of Michigan’s top team was negative in this debate and the affirmative they were debating decided to read a free trade add on in the 2ac. The negative stood up did their thing, and with 3 or so minutes left in the 1nr, the 1nr went to the free trade add on and straight impact turned it. This put the aff in a huge hole. 1st they needed to find their free trade file and get it out, next they needed to continue prepping the rest of the negative block, and third they needed to invest their own prep time after the speech was done to get their free trade house in order. If the 2nc had stood up and impact turned the trade adv some of the “shock and awe” would have been lost, the 1ar would have used the cross-x of the 2nc to get the file out and ready, the 2a would be able to cross-x the 2n on the impact turns. The sandbagging benefit would have been lost completely.

Juke the aff out- I feel like a huge percentage of 2ns give incredibly revealing speeches (like taking states and politics in the 1nr, or 8 mins of the K) they are to clearly telegraphing their moves to the aff. Dividing up the block by giving the 1n a key piece of paper that is viable in the 2nr might make the aff reconsider their 1ar time allocation. If that reasoning isn’t enough think about this, most 1as are 2ns, and since most 2ns go for what / all they took in the block they become less likely to give what the 1nr took any credit in their speech. This is becomes an exploitable play if you know how said 2n/1a thinks.

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list of ways you can utilize the 1nr. Every team has different positions they like to go for but hopefully you all will be able to maximize your negative block’s potential in the future by thinking about this post.  The negative should really always have a stranglehold on the debate after the block, the last thing you want to do is let the aff off the hook

18 thoughts on “Maximizing the 1NR's potential

  1. R. Garrett

    One comment I would like to add as a college debater is the aspect of theory blocks read in the negative block. My partner and I go for theory on the AFF in a decent number of rounds, nothing makes it easier for the AFF to only go for theory in the 1AR than reading your theory blocks right at the top of the 2NC. There are plenty of reasons not to always give theory to the 1NR, but at least move the CP or K theory debate to as late in the block as possible. The more time the AFF has to process your theory arguments the better line-by-lining they can do to make theory winnable. Additionally it makes it easier for the AFF to go for theory and substance well because they can have one partner working extensively to prep a good 1AR extension that accounts for all negative arguments.

  2. Paul Strait

    More important than the 1NC? If the negative was forced to go without one speech, they would be better off skipping the 1NR before skipping the 1NC…

  3. John

    With the whole sandbagging thing, let's say that the aff is WAY behind on a Disad coming out of the 2AC, like they put two defensive args on it. Is is strategic to at the top of the 2NC read a highly-impact-turnable impact add-on(like prolif, LOST, heg, etc.) have the Aff's eye's light up, have them flow the rest of that speech with the knowledge that they will be probably straight turning in the 1AR so they don't need to answer the defense, and then use their 2NC CX prep prepping that impact turn only to have the 1NR at the very end of the 1NR say scratch the LOST add-on or whatever?

  4. Roy Levkovitz


    If they've only got 2 defensive args beat them on those, this trickiness doesn't really make you look good. They might just use CX of the 2nc to get this stuff and not loose that much prep. You are essentially sacrificing 2 mins of your block to try to juke out a team that has already made a mistake.

  5. David Marks

    Good article, but 1NR straight turns with free trade bad… really Roy? How'd that work out for you?

  6. Rajesh Inder Jegadee

    any opinions on 1NR taking theory? granting garrett's benefits of less prep time and allowing the 2N to flow the args if the 1N takes it, if Roy's claims about the efficacy of the 1nr's not having a cx/saving the punch for real args/taking prep for stuff that isn't blocked out is true, that would point to putting it in the 2NC.

  7. Casey Harrigan

    Rajesh —

    It's situational and there are benefits to either strategy. Generally, the calculation is: "Is the team that I'm debating likely to go for this theory argument in the 1AR?". If so, then put it in the 1NR.

    The better you get, the more teams will go for conditionality and other theory stuff. So, part of the calculation is how far ahead you are going to be on substance.

  8. Josh Gonzalez

    I'm not convinced that there is a consistently worthwhile marginal benefit to moving theory to the 2NC/1NR. This may well have a lot to do with the fact that I very, very rarely hear a theory argument that I think rises to the level of being a reason to vote for one team or the other, but in my experience judging, affs that are going to go for theory are:

    A. Unlikely to be dissuaded from doing so as a result of any neg speech allocations.

    B. Pretty well prepped to rapidly assemble a 1AR on the issue of their choosing.

    The one bit of caution that I would suggest is that it is oftentimes very frustrating to judges when a flow is hacked up into pieces, some of which are taken in one speech, others in the next. Obviously not that hard for computer flowers, or even those that use paper, just annoying more than anything else, and that can matter to speaker points.

    As for 1NR tips, I think that the Duck said it best: "offense, offense, offense…"


  9. Roy Levkovitz

    @Josh Gonzalez
    I definitely agree with Gonzo on the issue of the aff being irrelevant to the calculation 1ar blocks are pre-written and good 1as just check off the args they need to answer / make.
    RE: Hardly seeing it a reason its a VI- I'll pretend you didn't say that

    @Rajesh Inder Jegadeesh
    Rajesh- I think the reason it is so situational is that it really depends on the partners / partnership. Obviously if one person is significantly weaker then the other then maybe giving them theory in the 1n can be useful to making sure the 2n can deal with more of the "meat and potatoes" of the negative strategy. Part of the reason it is so hard to discuss negative block strategy is that not all teams and partnerships are created equally. If both partners are relatively equally good the 2n taking it seems to make more sense.

  10. Josh Gonzalez

    @Roy Levkovitz

    I just think that rejecting the arg is typically tantamount to rejecting the team. It's extremely rare that I find a 20 second (tops) 2AC arg rise to the level of making the rest of the debate irrelevant. I also think that treating theory as such often makes for bad theory debates, instead of argument about what the contours of the activity ought to look like.

    I mean, I spent a year around Ross Smith, it's pretty hard not to be either a: convinced or b: browbeaten into submission by the man.

  11. David Mullins

    That article is great. Solt talks about there being a debate about the legitimacy of kritik permutations- are there any articles about this/what did the debate look like?

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