(I've cross-posted this to the Tournament Toolkit page on Facebook.)
1. They’re not always mutual.
If two opponents have ranked all the judges exactly the same, there will always be a mutual judge at any point in the tournament. The fewer matches between the two, the less chance there is for mutuality. One of the things we do in tab is look at any pairing where the judge isn’t mutual, i.e., a 1-2 or a 2-3 (on the 6-tiered system). Sometimes there is a mutual judge or two, but that judge is being used elsewhere, and that elsewhere takes precedence. That is, you’re in a down-one round and that judge is in a down-two bubble round. Tabroom does a good job of sorting those priorities. As often as not, however, the opponents literally have zero mutuality. You would think that this is unlikely, but it happens fairly regularly.
My guess is that there are people who do not rank their preferences in order of, well, preference. They are too clever for that, and have come up with some great system for ranking that somehow insures their advantage. I advise these people to do the math. In a well-run tabroom, the most highly preferred judges go to the teams who need them the most, starting at the bubble. Any cockamamie system that doesn’t put your highest prefs in the highest position will only get you the judges you really want if you’ve completely outsmarted your opponent in preffing. Or more to the point, you have to completely outsmart every potential opponent in the field in your preffing, if you want your system to work. Good luck with that.
2. The better you’re doing, the less likely you are to your get your top preferences.
Assuming that you and your opponent have ranked about that same, in the general trend of the tournament, your highly preffed judges will be pretty much everyone’s highly preffed judges. Again, best prefs go to the bubble. If you’re undefeated, especially in later rounds, the chances are that all your mutual 1s, and maybe even all your mutual 2s, are judging in rounds that matter more than yours. (Needless to say, if you’re both down-one, you still have a whole lot more down-twos ahead of you in line.)
I’ve done the math on this, and the data definitely suggests that the better you do at a tournament, the worse your overall pref numbers. If you’re down-two for four power-paired rounds in a row, you can pretty much be assured you’re getting mutual 1s for all of those rounds (unless you have a cockamamie system). If you’re undefeated for four power-paired rounds in a row, you’re getting 2s and 3s, and you may not even be getting mutuality. The number of judges at a tournament is finite, and Rawls says that the distribution is fairest that points to the bubble first, and down from there.
3. The best debaters are the ones who can adapt to a variety of judges.
Judge adaptation has never gone away, not even with MJP. If the better you’re doing at a tournament the less likely you are to get your top prefs, it stands to reason that winning a tournament requires you to adapt. In fact, you are demonstrating that ability to adapt in every round.
One thing I maintain, although only anecdotally, is that while debaters understand that adaptation is important, coaches aren’t always aware of it. Coaches think that their debaters should get nothing but 1s and the occasional 2, and complain to tab when that doesn’t happen. Meanwhile, their debaters are mopping up the floor with all comers in front of all judges because, well, the debaters are doing what they have to do, and one way or another adjusting as necessary.
I will maintain to the day I die that the most important thing in any public speaking is, before anything else, knowing your audience. I think the best debaters do this subconsciously. Everyone else needs to do it consciously. If you don’t understand your audience, how is your audience going to understand you?