Trix Are NOT For Kids

Liam Nyberg | 4/29/22

Tricks are a commonly disliked style of argumentation that is almost exclusively read in the High-School Lincoln Douglas debate, but what even is a trick? Tricks are commonly associated with apriori's and paradoxes that rely on presumption, permissibility, and truth testing, but that would be incorrect. For example, this definition could include a fully developed skepticism or determinism NC, but these operate on the substance layer and are not trying to 'trick' anyone in the round. I think a better conception of a trick is a quick argument that, if dropped, could end the round. This broadens the definition of tricks to things like a 5-second conditionality shell or independent voting issues.

Tricks are often hated by competitors and judges because they are seen as silly and goofy. Tricks are usually obviously wrong, no one genuinely thinks that we should evaluate the debate after the 1AC, so when a debater loses to a trick, it is frustrating. Unfortunately, this is not a good reason to dislike the style of argumentation since it does not explain why tricks are bad but instead why someone would not like them. Another reason why the trick is hated is that it is seen as an escape from substantive engagement, which would stop debaters from getting topic education. Lastly, tricks debates are usually terrible to watch and judge since the majority of tricks debaters have used these blippy arguments as a crutch instead of getting better at necessary basics like weighing (me, for real).

Although at some level, these things are true, tricks are good. They provide a type of education that we cannot get from other styles of debate, and that is in-round education. For almost every other argument in debate, we can construct files and blocks out of round, which means debaters often are not thinking on their feet but instead copy and pasting their blocks into a speech doc. This is not as likely with tricks since these arguments are so small and come in such quantities that it is inefficient to write blocks for them. This means debaters must think on their feet and hone their skill education. Even if these styles of debate take us away from the topic literature that we are 'meant to be debating', the skills that we learn are more important. Topic education is not useful outside of the debate round, since things like Lethal Autonomous Weapons, Space policy, or IPP on medicine are not topics that are very applicable to an average highschoolers life, but skills that we learn in the activity, like argument generation are a portable skill that is easy to apply outside of the debate space. 

Next is the case that tricks debate is a useful tool for small school debaters. One of the advantages that big schools have is their access to massive amounts of prep. They have years of backfiles to build on and more people to prep for each topic. Tricks debates can help to level the playing field since big schools only have bad generics against tricks(i.e., Trix bad, or new 2NR/2AR responses), which forces them to engage in a substantive debate. 

A wholesale rejection of tricks is dogmatic. To believe that tricks in every instance will always be bad for debate and thinking that we should completely move away from tricks debate does not consider other viewpoints. Tricks debates can be educational and fair, and to reject that style is disrespectful to debaters who put in the time to get good at tricks debate. It also does not take into account that people do debate for different reasons. I do debate because I find it fun, and I find tricks debate fun, so I will do tricks debate. Not everyone cares about your fairness or education. 

It is important to remember that there is a time and a place to do tricks debate. This is not the go-ahead to spread out a novice with a Nailbomb 1AC or ignore accommodations. It is important to respect other people's boundaries regarding the arguments that they are ready to debate against and attempt to keep the round educational for those who are participating in it. Most of the reasons why tricks are perceived as bad are because the people who do tricks debate, hide arguments in mountains of text, or spread out novices. It would be best for everyone if you, the tricks debater, did not make the space unnecessarily hard to navigate.