One of Texas’s very special annual events is coming up soon. The fourth annual Hunter Burton Memorial Magic Open takes place on Sunday, March 26th, at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas. The event has grown in size a little bit each year as word has spread. No other Texas tournament all year delivers more value and fun than this special event. This year, as in previous years, the main event format is Standard with a special Booster Draft for the Top 8. This year, the Top 8 players will draft Modern Masters 2017!
This event spreads out $10,000 in cash prizes. Along with cash and a premium draft, the Top 8 finishers also receive Star City Games IQ swag in the form of exclusive SCG tokens and collectible pins and playmats. The top two finishers also qualify for the next SCG Invitational. The Top 8 players will have their name added to the growing list of top Texas players immortalized on the impressive Hunter Burton Memorial trophy and they each receive a very limited edition six-sided die. On top of all that, the winner is awarded a luxury wristwatch valued at over $1000.
The event attracts the area’s best players. All three of the previous winners have Pro Tour experience. Two previous Hunter Burton Memorial champs, Robert Berni and Zac Elsik, are Grand Prix champions.
Why do we do it? We do it all to remember someone we love. Hunter Burton was once Texas’s best Magic player, a talented young man who traveled the world playing the game. His greatest achievement was in 2008 when he reached the Top 4 of Pro Tour Austin. Hunter was bombastic and highly opinionated and occasionally brash, but he also possessed leadership skills and maturity beyond his years. He was well-known to Magic players across the world, but Texas was his home.
After high school, Hunter made Magic his career, although he was also known to play a lot of poker, particularly online. Hunter’s plan was to spend his twenties playing cards. I used to kid him about when he was going to get serious with his life. He told me, flatly, that he imagined he would have to grow up when he turned 30. Hunter would have turned 30 this month. Unfortunately, due to all kinds of personal stress and other factors, Hunter Burton took his own life at the age of 26 in 2013.
Shortly after the loss of their son, Hunter’s parents approached me about creating a special Magic tournament as a memorial event for their boy. Having been Hunter’s teammate and friend since 2005, I jumped at the chance to be involved. Greg and Dona Burton wanted to create the kind of tournament that their son would have loved to play in. That meant there had to be a significant prize, preferably a cash prize. The tournament would be held in Hunter’s birth month of March each year. Hunter loved Limited as much as he loved Constructed, so the tournament that bears his name consists of both Standard for the Swiss rounds and a premium Booster Draft for the top eight. The total cash prize has risen from $5000 in 2014 to $10,000 this year. And when the Burtons promise cash prizes, they deliver. All prizes are completely guaranteed and are paid out on the day of the event in cash. We’re talking about nothing but fifties and hundred-dollar bills.
The Burton family puts a huge amount of loving care into the event. For the first event, in 2014, Hunter’s dad Greg rolled a shiny Harley-Davidson motorcycle into the hall to show off the Magic-themed custom paint job featuring many of Hunter’s favorite Magic cards. Hunter’s favorite card was Eternal Witness, and a version of that card’s artwork is featured on both his father’s customized motorcycle as well as on his sister’s thigh. The weekend before the first Hunter Burton Memorial Magic Open, there was a Grand Prix event in Richmond, Virginia, that distributed playmats featuring the Terese Nielsen artwork from Eternal Witness. A friend of Hunter’s collected eight copies of this valuable playmat and donated them to the tournament so that they could be given to the Top 8 finishers. I guess some things are just meant to be.
This event has spawned the creation of commemorative doo-dads like you wouldn’t believe. Each year, there are special large six-sided dice created featuring the name and date of the event. Each year, the number of dice created is limited to whatever age Hunter would have been that year; 27 dark blue dice were created for that first event in 2014, and there are exactly 30 shiny green dice available this year. They are given to the Top 8 finishers as well as to the winners of special side events, the judge staff, Hunter’s family, and an occasional VIP or two.
Thousands of promotional scorepads are printed each year and delivered to stores far and near to help remind players of the upcoming event. Commemorative pens and t-shirts have been created each year as well. Because Hunter loved to play poker, there have been commemorative poker chips each year in a different color with a different picture of Hunter. In 2015, the Burtons distributed small pen knives to the players. Last year, that item was replaced with a commemorative black lanyard. Hunter always carried his car keys on the end of one of the lanyards he brought back from the Pro Tour. I copied that move as soon as I saw Hunter doing it years ago. This year, the event is handing out special green wristbands debossed with this year’s slogan, “Not Afraid to Talk About It.”
Helping a local charity was on the Burtons’ mind from the origin of the event four years ago. For the first event in 2014, they chose Easter Seals. A young man that they knew benefited from this charity. This young man was a basketball player in high school when he learned he had cancer. This young man’s cancer treatments left him ravaged and disabled. Hunter knew the young man and befriended him. Starting with the second year of the Hunter Burton Memorial, the Burton family chose a charity that deals specifically with the loss that caused them to start the event in the first place. From that time until now, the event has benefitted the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Hunter Burton’s suicide was the first to touch me on an extremely personal level. Suicide had occurred in my family, but to distant relations that I didn’t know well. Until Hunter’s suicide, I have to admit I had certain preconceptions about the kind of person that committed suicide. I thought they were weak or deeply damaged in a way that was obvious to anyone paying attention.
I couldn’t imagine this being true of my friend Hunter.
Hunter was bigger than life; he could do anything that he put his mind to. His adventures are too numerous to cite, but he was always a powerful person with impressive insight and an amazing will and strength of personality. I have learned that anyone, even a person as powerful as Hunter, can find themselves believing that the only way to end their internal struggle is suicide. Since that sad day in 2013 when I realized I wouldn’t have my pal and teammate to travel to Magic events with anymore, my life hasn’t been the same.
I have, however, learned to understand suicide differently than I once did. This has been true as well for Hunter’s parents and his many other friends. Erin Giddings, a local game store owner and tournament organizer who has worked on the Hunter Burton Memorial each year, told me that he lost another close friend to suicide not too many years ago. He believes, as I do, that it’s important to discuss suicide prevention and awareness with the Magic community. Gamers are sensitive types who may tend to keep their feelings deep inside. When I was a teenager, Magic: The Gathering didn’t exist yet, but Dungeons & Dragons did. My group didn’t exactly advertise to the rest of our small-town high school that we met in my living room weekly to commune together, eat our feelings, and work out our social frustrations with swords and sorcery inside some dungeon against dragons both figurative and real.
The Hunter Burton Memorial Magic Open gives Magic players an opportunity to come out and compete at a high level and win amazing prizes while also giving back to their community. It’s an event that is about more than just who wins and who loses. It’s an event that looks back at the life of a good friend and great player. It’s an event that looks forward towards a time when we won’t be afraid to talk about what’s bothering us deep down inside.
You can learn more about Hunter Burton and about the details of this year’s event on Facebook at the Hunter Burton Memorial.