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It will happen to the best of debaters. The idea that once so intrigued judges, wowed parents, and left negative teams with their jaws hanging open* sometimes loses it’s effectiveness. Or, maybe that effectiveness was never there in the first place, and despite the rock-solid advocacy and mountains of logic surrounding a given case, judges and coaches just don’t seem to get it. Yes, it will happen.

However, dumping a case, just like dumping toxic waste  is not something to be done “early and often”**, nor is it something to relish. Think of the trees; the mountains of evidence on pristine white paper just waiting to be read! The crisp sheet protectors that shine in the light of the fluorescent bulbs burning brightly above! The… okay, I’ll stop now.

trash-310219_1280As the title implies, before you start your preliminary search, you need to ask yourself several questions.

Why am I dumping this case?

Is a new case any better?

How do I go about changing?

Why am I dumping this case?

Before you even consider switching to a new case, you should look at your old one. Why is it losing? Is it the negative argumentation or the judge’s perspective?

To answer these questions, you should not be just rereading your case. Debate is, unfortunately or fortunately, subjective, and that means your opinion matters little as to why your case is losing. To answer these questions, especially if the answer is the judge’s perspective, you must go outside of your team. Coaches, parents, mentors, professors, the guy in a wheelchair selling newspapers on the street corner, etc. are all good sources to go to. The farther away you get from debate-land, the better. The goal here is again, to find out why your case is losing, and portraying a case badly to a judge is probably the number one reason why affirmatives lose.

However, it could also be the negative argumentation.

The cause could be that a new card that effectively kills the case is going around, or maybe that some new combination of arguments is being passed through clubs.  In these cases, you should go to the experts. Coaches, other debaters, and mentors are great, but experts can solve your problem through their topic knowledge. Explain to them what you’re doing, and most will be happy to chat with a student interested in their field of expertise. This is especially nice if you’ve got a plan advocate. Contact them and ask for their opinion on the argument you’re struggling with. You may be surprised at what you find out.

However, your sole criteria on whether you should change or not should not be your W/L record. To explain why, I’m going to talk about why I started this blog post.

You see, last year, our case struggled. Throughout the whole year. It’s record was horrible, and the only reason we kept breaking was our negative wins. So we stuck with it, but drafted another case that we ran a couple rounds here and there. That new case went undefeated.

But we didn’t change from our old junker. And as I was sitting, reading my ballots from regionals, I realized that it was our affirmative that prevented us from having a chance at nationals. I kept asking myself “Oh why didn’t we just trash the junker?!!?!”. Months later, I’m glad we didn’t switch. The other case, while undefeated, simply wasn’t as fun. We had fun with our “junker” case, and I’m now glad we stuck with it.

A W/L ratio shouldn’t be the only thing deciding whether to switch.

However, sometimes a case is really and truly dead. Sometimes scholars change their minds and your plan advocate goes poof (Carbon Tax, anyone?) and sometimes Congress does really good things (123 Agreement w/ India, mm?).

What now?

Is the new case any better?

This should be a common sense step, but I see so many debaters simply change cases seemingly for the end result of changing cases. Make sure you can argue for it. Make sure that you can, at the very least, sound convincing enough so as to appear to believe in it. This is a lot like buying a car. Ensure that you’re changing to something you can love, because you’re probably going to have it awhile.

How do I go about changing?

Most of the time, you’ll switch cases during the tournament season, usually within a week of the next tournament. Yeah, well, that’s the way it always seems to happen. 😛

Basically, when switching, you’re going to be pressed for time. You won’t have as long to learn everything about it. You won’t have the number of rounds under your belt with it.

So, to compensate for this, you should be prepared to be focused.

Personal story time!

We switched cases India year, a little less than a week before the next tournament. The first day, I researched until 1 or so in the morning, and wrote the 1AC. The next day, we went and had a practice round with it against the best team in our club. That showed us that our mandates basically did nothing, and that the 1AC was too long. Yeah. Then, the third day, we fixed the issues we found in the round, and prepped for specific negative arguments that we thought we would hit. And finally, on the fourth day, had another practice round in which we did much better. We ended up breaking a couple days later.

Moral: Always, always, always have someone else review it, and, if possible, have a practice round or two. If we would have gone into the tournament as we had it written, we would’ve gotten slaughtered because our mandate did nothing. Thankfully, we had other debaters try to tear it apart before we went into the tournament.

So, in sum:

  1. Pick a case that you like (this process is way to big to discuss here)
  2. Research/pull all relating evidence from sourcebooks.
  3. Write your 1AC, rereading the mandates twice to make sure they accomplish what your plan advocate recommends….
  4. Get input/debate a practice round.
  5. Write list of negative arguments and brief them

And that’s pretty much it. These steps to finding a new affirmative can apply whether you’re drafting your first 1AC ever, or your tenth case of the season. But whenever you’re switching, you’ll be more pressed for time and thus will have to be more focused with your process.


Hopefully this was a benefit to some of you all as you struggle with a case that’s floundering, or at least got the ol’ cogs turning for some who are flying high right now.

Remember, unlike the Constitution, your case is very much a living document. It should be an evolutionary process– adapting to the challenges that it faces, both from the negative teams and from judges.

It’s a real jungle out there, and only the fittest cases will survive. (okay… I’ll cut out with the metaphors now. :P)

If your case doesn’t survive, know why it’s failing, ensure that the new case is better, and be focused with your plan of action on creating a new affirmative.

Above all of that, have fun. 🙂

~Anthony Severin

*Please be sure that there are no flies around whenever you unveil your new case. It can be dangerous for astonished observers who have not picked their jaw up off the floor yet. 😉

**This is not to say, of course, that you cannot win if you switch cases often. Though, you also have to be wary of the dozen top researchers from other clubs in the region having a couple of midnight research sessions at the tournament. 😉

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