The Loss Of A Legend… Jeff “Zanman” Zandi

It is with great sadness and the heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of Jeff Zandi. A founder of the Hunter Burton Memorial Open, a pillar of the Magic the Gathering community, and one of the kindest human beings someone could ever meet.

Six years ago he along with the Burton family started this charity foundation and the now annual Hunter Burton Memorial Open to celebrate the life of his good friend and their son Hunter. On a mission to keep Hunter’s spirit alive and prevent other families from going through the same tragedy, Jeff developed an event that Hunter would be proud of and the Magic community would learn from. Without Jeff Zandi there would be no HBMO.

This year at the 2019 Hunter Burton Memorial Open we will have an event on Sunday, March 17th dedicated to Jeff that embodies his love of Magic and the immense amount friends he’s made along the way. Details of the special event and our full event schedule will be delayed a few days. As you can imagine right now we would like some time to process and mourn the loss of our friend, a member of our family.

“I’ve spent this morning remembering great times with Zanman. The day trip to Houston for a Rangers game. The first time we judged together. Countless (134 … he counted) Guildmage meetings. Building the Hunter Burton Memorial to be what it is. I’ll remember Jeff forever and my heart goes out to his family and friends. I wouldn’t be the same without him.”
– Joeseph Klopchic, HBMO Team

Jeff 2

“Jeff Zandi was someone I respected more than words can do justice. At the end of the day, Jeff made this event what it is. This team is a family. This cause brought us together, and this event helped channel our passion. To say I’ll miss Jeff is an understatement. I promise to always make sure the HBMO represents something Jeff would appreciate and always make sure his spirit is represented at the core of this event. It was an honor to know you Jeff. My thoughts and love go to Willa and Lawson today.”
– Erin Giddings, HBMO Team

Jeff Zandi in 2016 HBMO shirt

“I will miss Zanman – one of the most awesome, kind, unique, giant-hearted humans on this planet. I will miss our meetings at Joe T’s to discuss the HBMO and many other things in life. Most importantly, I want to thank Jeff for welcoming my son Hunter into his home as if he was a member of his family. Hunt loved Zanman so so much. Thank you Zanman!”
– Dona Burton, HBMO Founder

Jeff Zandi 1

Jeff Zandi has no peer and no equal. His devotions to God, to his family, and to Magic are unmatched. He has positively impacted an overwhelming number of lives in his short time on this planet and his always positive energy will be greatly missed.

Zanman left us last night on February 15th after suffering a heart attack. His wife Willa and son Lawson appreciate your thoughts and your prayers during this time.

Jeff 5

2019 Pre-Registration Is Live

It’s finally here! The 2019 Hunter Burton Memorial Open is exactly one month away and we have everything you need for registration right here.

First, just in case you didn’t already know, this year’s event is on March 16th & 17th at the Hurst Conference Center in Hurst, Texas. In addition to it being a two-day event, this year we have added our Texas-Sized Welcome Party on Friday, March 15th at the Hilton Hotel connected to the event.


Discount rooms are available until February 22nd at the connected Hilton Hotel. Each room has a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. Parking is covered and FREE all weekend. There is direct access from parking garage to your floor for convenience. The facility also has an indoor 24-Hour pool and hot tub. The hotel Restaurant serves breakfast starting early and a bar to relax at in the evening.



Now, I’m sure you want all the details before you register right? Well here is everything you need to know about registering for the event:

– Entry into any 1 event on Saturday or Sunday
– 1 Ticket to the invite only Texas-Sized Welcome Party on Friday, March 15th
– 1 HBMO Custom Playmat from ARG (pictured below)
– 1 Retro 51 Custom HBMO Fine Writing Pen (pictured below)
– Access to a VIP only room with unlimited coffee and water on Saturday & Sunday
– VIP Only check-in line at the event
– Participation Bag with Legion Sleeves & Deck Box and Ultra-Pro Relic Tokens & Life Pad.

HunterBurton_virtual-1 playmat4


Modern $10k Main Event – $50.00 (Star City Games SUPER IQ)
– Entry into the Modern Format $10k tournament on Saturday, March 16th
– Participation Bag with Legion Sleeves & Deck Box and Ultra-Pro Relic Tokens & Life Pad.
(This event cuts to the top 64 who will play on Sunday)
(Sponsored by Legion Supplies, Ultra-Pro Supplies, & Wizards of the Coast)

Standard $5k Main Event – $40.00 (Star City Games SUPER IQ)
– Entry into the Modern Format $10k tournament on Saturday, March 16th
– Participation Bag with Legion Sleeves & Deck Box and Ultra-Pro Relic Tokens & Life Pad.
(Sponsored by Legion Supplies, Ultra-Pro Supplies, & Wizards of the Coast)

Texas-Sized Welcome Party – $60.00 (Extremely Limited)
– Casual lite dinner and a beverage included (Beer or wine available for ages 21+)
– Live Music and entertainment
– Exclusive silent auctions
– Meet VIP Guests such as Gerry Thompson, Bryan Gottlieb, DeQuan Watson, and others
– Chat with vendors, sponsors, volunteers, the HBMO team and other HBMO contributors
– A +1 ticket can be purchased for an additional $40.00 during registration

There are plenty of other events happening at the 2019 Hunter Burton Memorial Open!

Saturday, March 16th
12:00pm – Standard Format $1k Tournament (Sponsored by the GAM Podcast, Seattle)
12:00pm Legacy Format $1k Tournament (Sponsored by Card Kingdom, Seattle)
Commander Pods
Sit-n-go Booster Draft Pods
High-Roller Draft (You’ll have to be at the event to get the details!)

Sunday, March 17th
Modern Format $1k Tournament (Sponsored by Park Hill Portraits, Ft. Worth)
Two-Headed Giant Special Event (Sponsored by Direct Damage Cast, West Coast)
Commander Pods
Sit-n-go Booster Draft Pods

6th Annual Hunter Burton Memorial Open
March 15th – 17th, 2019
Hurst Conference Center
1601 Campus Drive

Sponsored By:




2019 Sponsor Spotlight Series: Alter Reality Games

Every year we highlight and honor our top sponsors and contributors with our Sponsor Spotlight Series. These articles give you a deeper look at the amazing people and companies that make the annual Hunter Burton Memorial Open happen! Please take time to check out their website and their work to thank them for helping spread awareness about suicide in the gaming community!

Today’s spotlight is ALTER REALITY GAMES based in Cleveland, Ohio!


Jim McMahan wanted to have something to do in retirement so Alter Reality Games (ARG) opened April 15, 2001 and started as a hobby, toy memorabilia store in Cleveland, Ohio. Sports memorabilia in Cleveland however just wasn’t doing well, so the company began to sell Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z and Magic the Gathering. Soon following in 2002 the YuGiOh trading card game arrived onto the scene in the United States and that is when most people around the world got to know ARG. After nearly 10 years, in 2013 ARG did the unthinkable! Listening to so many players ask why YuGiOh didn’t offer larger cash tournaments like companies do for other games like Magic, they launched the ARG Circuit Series.

“Today, I like to describe the Circuit Series as how ARG specializes in all games smaller than Magic, but the secret weapon that makes our company so strong is that we are a major player in the MTG vending community. For the past 13 years my partner Brad has been able to run the card side of business and I am able to focus on the Circuit Series.”
– Jim McMahan (President & Founder of Alter Reality Games)

Fast approaching his company’s 20th anniversary, Jim has expanded and adapted once again! In 2018 the company started ARG Customs. It focuses on custom cloth and rubber playmats as well as store and team Jerseys.

“Being able to print our own playmats is a huge cost saver and allows us to be more versatile in things like promotional items and advertising.” – Jim McMahan

On top of launching a new side of the company, in 2018 ARG helped launch the Dragon Ball Super Card Game alongside Bandai in the United States. Adding it to Circuit Series events was just the tip of the spear as throughout the year ARG ran all large-scale organized play for the game including massive regional level events with upwards of 500 players!

“We had a lot of success on the tournament scene as Bandai might just have their most popular US TCG in their history. What might be the most exciting thing yet is the future. We plan on making Dragon Ball Super stronger, growing ARG Customs as well as taking the Circuit Series to new levels.” – Jim McMahan

Are you ready for the shocker? ARG hasn’t stopped at there! It was hinted and later announced in late 2018 that Alter Reality Games would be launching their own trading card game, Argent Saga. A trading card game that is  being hailed as a game by gamers, for gamers.

“Argent Saga is created by gamers we have met over the years. The management team for the game was hand selected by me. We also plan on showcasing players that play trading card games in the Argent Saga TCG and the lore we will introduce.”
– Jim McMahan

The Hunter Burton Memorial Open is proud to have Jim and Brad from Alter Reality Games as part of this year’s event on March 16th & 17th at the Hurst Conference Center in Hurst, Texas. As an amazing contribution, ARG Customs has donated the VIP Playmat for this year’s event.

(Playmat design by Brian Valdez)

“Suicide has not personally touched me, but I have seen how suicide has affected those who loved ones have committed suicide. I love when our communities come together and gamers give back.  I feel like ARG is in a position to do our small part and hopefully help bring awareness to prevent suicide.  We need to learn the warning signs and effective interventions to help.” – Jim McMahan

“I am so thrilled to have ARG on board for this year’s event. Jim and I have had the pleasure of working together over a number of years now and to have he and Brad be a part of something so special to me is just an amazing feeling. I can’t thank them enough for the charity work they do and for making such a big impact on our 2019 HBMO!”
– Erin Giddings (Director of Operations for HBMI)

Make sure you check out for all of your CCG/TCG needs!

Jim Brad ARG

A Best Friend’s Perspective: Alex’s Story

This is a piece written by Alex Huebner, a best friend of Hunter’s. This is his (mostly unfiltered) story about his time with Hunter Burton. With all of the hype surrounding the tournament and the prizes, we wanted to share a more personal perspective as a reminder of why we work so hard to make the Hunter Burton Memorial Open happen each year!


I remember the very last time I saw Hunter Burton and that thought has haunted me ever since. We had not spoken in a while when he happened to show up to a booster draft at our local game store Area 51 in Grapevine, Texas. We caught up and the last thing I said to Hunter was “see you later.” Unfortunately, I was wrong; I wasn’t aware of how Hunter was struggling internally because he was always one to keep his feelings inside. To Hunter, it was the macho thing to do. We would lightly discuss issues we were having but wouldn’t get too personal because we didn’t want to seem “vulnerable.”

I first met Hunter when I was 15 at Shotokan Anime in Hurst, Texas and I wasn’t too fond of him at the start. He was very abrasive and could sometimes just be a downright jerk. It wasn’t until later that I realized that’s just how Hunter was; if he liked you, he would poke fun at you and, if he didn’t, then he wouldn’t talk to you at all. By the time I was 17 we had come to understand each other and were hanging out from time to time at the shop, but eventually Shotokan closed and we all went our separate ways. A few months later Collectibles Continuum opened up in downtown Mansfield and a mutual friend of ours, Jason Tams, convinced me to check it out since it was close to where we lived. I remember walking in and seeing Ian Jasheway and Hunter sitting there playing magic and thinking it was weird since Ian and Hunter didn’t really get along.

After several months of us playing magic together at Collectibles Continuum we became a very unlikely group of friends called “The Trio,”. We had a lot of good times together, whether it be sitting in Hunter’s car bumming Wi-Fi from whatever local store we could get it from, going bowling, or seeing movies with Jeff Zandi. We were a bunch of goons. One time, Ian jumped off his garage to sneak out of his house to hang out with me, and when I told Hunter about it, he obviously needed to see this. The next night Hunter and I were dropping Ian off and then planning to go do something and Ian wanted to join us, so Hunter pressured him into jumping off of his garage again, and at the highest point, telling him “If you land and roll you will be fine.” Long story short Ian shattered his foot and ended up in a wheelchair for several months. Hunter felt bad but would never admit it, but he made sure to go out of his way from then on to help Ian travel and hang out.

My favorite memory I have of Hunter goes back to when we were younger. I received a phone call from Hunter around 9pm telling me that he would be at my apartment in 30 minutes and that he had a surprise. Hunter showed up with 2 six packs of beer and said we were going to have a race to see who could finish theirs first. Me being young and not used to drinking lost the race pretty quickly. After we were finished Hunter said, “Let’s go play laser tag.” We hitched a ride and went to the arcade by my house. While we thought we were hot stuff and winning the laser tag war, it turned out that we had not hit a single person the whole game. All we could do was laugh. Afterwards we decided it was time to get some food in our stomachs, so we could sober up, so obviously we went to Waffle House. I was a little too intoxicated, so I went to the restroom and threw up so loud that everyone in the waffle house heard me. Hunter of course thought it was hilarious.

I am both Honored and sorrowful to be writing this article. I have written a little in my life, but nothing has felt more important than this. I learned a lot from knowing Hunter, and the most important thing I learned from all of this is to never take someone for granted because you never know what someone is going through even if they look fine on the outside. I have since learned to live in the moment and take nothing for granted and I want anyone that needs someone to talk to, or even just someone to listen to, to know that I am here for them.


Thanks Alex for that really touching piece! We all look forward to seeing you at this year’s Hunter Burton Memorial Open to hear more stories about your times with Hunter!

If you are suffering, don’t hold it in. It’s okay to talk about it! Call the National Suicide Hotline to get the help you deserve!  1-800-273-8255

Brian “Motumbo” Augustine Joins Our Commentary Team

We are so happy to announce our second member of the commentary team for the 2019 Hunter Burton Memorial Open. Returning for the second year, Brian “Motumbo” Augustine will join DeQuan Watson as our first official stream team.


Brian brings a new side to commentary for streaming Magic the Gathering. As demonstrated last year, he has plenty of competitive experience, a firm grasp of the “nuts & bolts” of Magic, and is a strong personality to work alongside DeQuan. He has an extensive history of competitive deck design and now utilizes his skills as a teacher of the game.

“Brian has been playing Magic the Gathering since Alpha and in a short amount of time made a name for himself as a popular card trader. At one point in his Magic the Gathering career Brian owned one-hundred sets of Power 9 and the stories of his epic trades have been shared for years. The story of trading from a phone book all the way up to a Moat is local legend at this point!”
– Erin Giddings


Although Brian has transitioned from playing the physical card game of Magic to the online medium, his passion for analyzing the game is still strong. He does streaming on his own Twitch channel which you can check out at

“I am honored to be a part of the HMBO once again. I was lucky to know Hunter, to see him grow up as a curious kid who just wanted to be a part of a group of gamers, to then moving past them by leaps and bounds driven by his talent and determination.

This is a very special event to not only honor a very close friend, but to help bring to light a very serious issue. With so much diversity in regards to backgrounds and beliefs, the HBMO brings together such a wonderful community of individuals who all want to do their part to prevent this tragedy from continuing to happen.”
– Brian Augustine


We are excited to have Brian back as a part of the 2019 HBMO team! Be sure to check out Brian’s Twitch channel and tune in to the Hunter Burton Memorial Open on March 16th & 17th to hear him call all the action!

Twitch –

Legion Supplies & Ultra-Pro Make MAJOR Contributions!

Legion-Logo-2017    ultraprologo_l

The rumors and rumblings you have heard over the past few weeks are very true! Thanks to some amazing people at both Legion Premium Supplies and Ultra-Pro Supplies every person who enters the Saturday Modern Main Event will receive a “Goodie Bag” with at least the following:

1 Ultra-Pro Drawstring Bag
100 Legion Card Sleeves
1 Ultra-Pro Life Pad
1 Legion Deck Box
1 Ultra-Pro Relic Tokens Pack
1 Ultra-Pro Divider Pack

This is HUGE news! For the first time ever, every person who enters the Hunter Burton Memorial Open Main Event will receive something just for showing up!

This is an amazing value for everyone that participates in the main event, but that’s not all! There will be announcements in the near future about giveaways for other events including the Sunday Standard Main Event.

“We are so thankful for the support from both Ultra-Pro and Legion. Their contributions help take our annual event to the next level and in doing so assist us in furthering our goal of spreading awareness and education about suicide in the gaming communities.”
– Erin Giddings
HBMI – Director of Operations 

These two industry giants have made an amazing contribution to the HBMO, but they are not the last! We have major announcements coming in the future that will only add to the magnitude of our sixth annual event!

Thank you Ultra-Pro. Thank you Legion. Please visit their websites for more information about their product lines and to show your support for our sponsors:


You can also visit any fine hobby gaming retailer where gaming supplies are sold!

Choose The HBMO on Amazon Smile!

Did you know that you can choose Hunter Burton Memorial Inc. as your charity of choice on That’s right! Your normal shopping online could donate money to Hunter Burton Memorial Inc. at NO COST TO YOU!!!

Here are some details about how it works and how you can set it up on your account:

What is AmazonSmile?

AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way for you to support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at, you’ll find the exact same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization. You can choose from over one million organizations to support.

How do I shop at AmazonSmile?

To shop at AmazonSmile simply go to from the web browser on your computer or mobile device. You may also want to add a bookmark to to make it even easier to return and start your shopping at AmazonSmile.

How do I select a charitable organization to support when shopping on AmazonSmile?

On your first visit to AmazonSmile, you need to select a charitable organization to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. We will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make at will result in a donation.


How much of my purchase does Amazon donate?

The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from your eligible AmazonSmile purchases. The purchase price is the amount paid for the item minus any rebates and excluding shipping & handling, gift-wrapping fees, taxes, or service charges. From time to time, we may offer special, limited time promotions that increase the donation amount on one or more products or services or provide for additional donations to charitable organizations. Special terms and restrictions may apply. Please see the relevant promotion for complete details.


You can donate and contribute to suicide awareness and prevention just by shopping normally online. It may not seem like much, but to our foundation it means the world! Thank you so much for your continued support!

To see more information about the Amazon Smile program and receive additional details please visit

What You Can Do To Help The HBMO

Almost daily I get asked by people from all walks of life what they can do to be involved with the Hunter Burton Memorial Open. To be honest, it’s one of the most humbling things to me as the Director of Operations. To be involved with a community that wants to help our cause, a cause that is so important to me personally is amazing. I can’t put the feelings of gratitude into words because they are just too great. Our entire organization feels so humbled to have such passionate people giving their time and money to help positively touch the community.

With that said, without the help of these amazing volunteers we wouldn’t be able to make the annual Hunter Burton Memorial Open happen each year. With our 2019 event just around the corner we have so many things going on behind the scenes. Because of the level this event has grown to we now need your help more than ever! So, if you are interested in helping we have a few ways you can make a difference…

Help Us Tell The World!

As simple and cliche’ as it sounds, we need you to tell people about the Hunter Burton Memorial Open.

– Share on Facebook, especially in local gaming groups. As often as you can!

– Tell your local hobby store about our cause, our event, and our new outreach program. Encourage them to participate!

– Make sure all your gamer friends know about the HBMO (and encourage them to attend.)

– Post about the HBMO on Instagram, Snapchat, and every other social media outlet you use to talk about games.

Start A Conversation In Your Local Store…

One of the things we work to achieve is spreading awareness about the tragically growing number of deaths by suicide in the gaming community. While our new outreach program is designed to get our message into stores and their communities, we can’t be everywhere all the time. Here is what you can do to help:

– Ask your local store to sign up for our outreach program to host a special community event.

– Talk to the owners and managers about posting a sign in the store with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number and web address in their store visible to their gamers and customers. (Located at the bottom of this page.)

– Be a person in your local community that lets other players know “It’s okay to talk about it!”

– Speak up and reach out to members of the community you feel may not feel as welcomed into the group or that shy away from group settings. Simple inclusion can be a powerful tool in saving a life!

– Don’t hesitate to ask others if they are doing okay. Just showing interest or care about another person can change their day.

Volunteer at our event!

Our 2019 event will be the largest ever and we will need a chunk of volunteers to help us on Friday the 15th, Saturday the 16th, and Sunday the 17th of March. If you are interested in being an official volunteer, we will have our volunteer registration up soon. In the meantime, here are some things we will be accepting volunteers for:

– Magic the Gathering floor judges.
– Registration Staff
– Floor Runners (assisting specific staff members.)
– Preparation team members (to help organize and distribute items.)
– Security Staff

Donate Gaming Products

Did you know that we accept donations other than just money? That’s right! We accept items that can be used for things like our outreach events, silent auctions, prize wall items, giveaways, volunteer rewards, and more! Here are just a few of the things we will need for our 2019 event:

  • Booster Boxes of any Magic the Gathering Set released in early 2019 (IMPORTANT)
  • Specialty Magic the Gathering Items like gift boxes or specialty releases
  • Products such as gift cards to national businesses, or gift baskets.
  • Magic the Gathering cards. Any or all cards including bulk!
  • … and so much more!


It means the world to us that people are willing to help us get our message out! With your help we can start making a positive impact at the local level and making the Hunter Burton Memorial Open THE premiere gaming event in the United States. I am looking forward to meeting and speaking with every one of you at our event in Hurst, in stores during an outreach event, or before through social media and email. Thank you for all you do by supporting us! Cheers to you all!

– Erin Giddings
Director of Operations
Hunter Burton Memorial Open

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

DeQuan Watson Announced As First Commentator For HBMO Live Stream!

We are proud to announce that gaming industry guru DeQuan Watson is the first member of our live stream commentary team! “Q” as he’s known by many is a staple in the gaming community and most importantly a well known name in the Magic the Gathering world.

“I am honored that DeQuan has signed on to be our first full commentator for the 2019 Hunter Burton Memorial Open! Q has been a supporter of our cause for years and to have him on the team is an amazing addition. He will do an amazing job calling the action on camera for everyone watching at home.”
– Erin Giddings
Director of Operations for HBMI

DeQuan WatsonDeQuan Watson is known industry wide for his many years as a game store owner in Waco, Texas. Over the years he has paved his way into the competitive gaming world most notably in Magic the Gathering as one of the highest ranked players in Texas. He recently worked for Wizards of the Coast helping in the marketing and WPN side of things. Now DeQuan efforts are focused on working for the Card Megastore, Card Kingdom based in Washington state.


You can catch DeQuan streaming MTG Arena on his Twitch Channel HERE.

Or you can visit his Twitch Channel at:


Sponsorship Announcement: Retro 51

Retro Logo

We are excited to announce the addition of Retro 51 as the first official sponsor of the 2019 Hunter Burton Memorial Open. Just like last year, Retro 51 will be donating 8 of it’s iconic Tornado fine writing pens to the top 8 players of the Modern main event. In addition we are working close with the reps at Retro 51 to do something very special for this year’s players! Look forward to their sponsor spotlight early next year with all the information!

Visit their website at

ZanMan Goes to GP Las Vegas

Team member Jeff Zandi attended the Magic the Gathering Grand Prix in Las Vegas earlier this year and repped his HBMO gear all the way. Here’s his recap:

Grand Prix Las Vegas

Magic events don’t get any bigger than at a Grand Prix, and nothing’s bigger than a Las Vegas Grand Prix. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane. Five nights and six days in sunny Las Vegas, spreading the word about the Hunter Burton Memorial Open all along the way. I wore a different HBMO t-shirt each day in Vegas, starting of course with the dark green 2014 shirt from our first-ever event. Here is the tale of my five day adventure at Grand Prix Las Vegas.

It seems like a natural fit, big-time Magic in the city where gaming happens 24-7. Wizards of the Coast wasn’t always sure that “Sin City” was a good fit for their family-friendly image. Long ago, in 2001, Las Vegas hosted their first Grand Prix. 462 players played Extended constructed. It would be twelve long years before Vegas got another chance to host big-time Magic. In 2013, Las Vegas hosted its second Grand Prix, this time featuring Modern Masters sealed deck and booster draft. It was the largest-ever Magic tournament with 4500 players. Two years later, lightning struck for a second time. Grand Prix Las Vegas 2015 featured Modern Masters 2015 and was so large it had to be cut into two separate events. The combined attendance set another record with nearly 8000 players. The Grand Prix returned to the Nevada desert again last year. This time, the draw wasn’t another Masters set, but three separate Grand Prix events running back-to-back-to-back. A Legacy Grand Prix started on Thursday, June 15th, with 2656 players. A day later, a limited GP with 2692 players. Finally, a colossal Modern GP began on Saturday with 3401 players. It was the biggest week of competitive Magic ever held in a single location.

Thursday at the Grand Prix

When the mega-huge halls opened at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday, June 14th, I was confronted by an eight-foot-tall Karn, Scion of Urza. There will be dozens of Magic cosplayers at the event this week but none as imposing or impressive as this one.

Jeff Zandi and Karn in 2014 HBMO shirt

This year’s Grand Prix Las Vegas started off with a bang on Thursday with a day full of special qualifying tournaments for a Beta booster draft to take place on Sunday evening after the end of the GP main events. There were eight qualifying tournaments, each limited to 256 players. The winner of each of these eight qualifying tournaments would take part in a historic Rochester draft Sunday night using extremely rare Beta booster packs, Magic’s very first edition from twenty-five years ago.

I’m playing in the first Beta qualifier, bright and early on Thursday morning. My event is Dominaria sealed deck and I get a reasonable green and black deck splashing blue for Cloudreader Sphinx, Tatyova, Benthic Druid and In Bolas’s Clutches on the back of three Islands and one Grow from the Ashes. My deck is bomb-free and not amazing. My hits are Phyrexian Scriptures and Urgoros, the Empty one along with Sporecrown Thallid with three spells that make Saproling tokens. Going 5-0 will be difficult. This event reached its player cap of 256 players and we are only playing five rounds of Swiss before the top eight. It’s necessary to go 5-0 in order to reach the top eight. Then you have to win the top eight Dominaria draft in order to qualify for Sunday’s Beta Rochester draft. It’s a serious challenge but an attractive enough one to attract a lot of Pro Tour talent.

playing next to David Williams

After winning round one 2-1 against Joe Dubois from Boston and his blue/white deck, I find myself seating one table over from my old friend David Williams. Nowadays, David crushes poker tournaments, Magic tournaments and televised cooking competitions. Over twenty years ago, David was the eighth (and youngest) member of the Texas Guildmages while he was still in high school. A lot has happened since then. He told me a week ago that his highest priority at Grand Prix Las Vegas was to win one of these Beta qualifiers. I hope he gets there. In round two I play against Amos Montineau from Utah. There are a lot of Utah players here this week, Amos says he only had to drive about three hours to get to Vegas. I give Amos one of the 2018 commemorative poker chips from February’s fifth annual Hunter Burton Memorial Open and explain to him how our Magic community in Texas is trying to raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention. I brought enough poker chips to give one to everybody that I play throughout the GP. Amos is playing white/green and I’m fortunate to get past him 2-1. I lose in round three to Kyle Montgomery. He’s in town for both the Grand Prix as well as the World Series of Poker. I defeat a local player in round four, Michael Blair, and then intentionally draw with my opponent in round five to finish 3-1-1. My man Dave was 4-0 but lost in the last round.

Friday at the World Series of Poker

My pal Hunter loved poker, though not as much as Magic. Hunter was a good poker player. It’s kind of amazing that he never decided to play in the World Series of Poker. The World Series of Poker has taken place every year in Las Vegas since Benny Binion hosted the first one at the Horseshoe in what is now old downtown Las Vegas in 1970. Today, the World Series of Poker is composed by a series of tournaments starting at the end of May and running to the middle of July. Grand Prix Las Vegas inevitably overlaps with several of the WSOP events.

I have wanted to play in the World Series since back in 1999 when the movie Rounders came out and me and a lot of my Magic buddies went poker-crazy. Back then, if we weren’t traveling to a Magic event on Friday night, the gang was playing poker at my house. My wife was putting up with a houseful of Magic players two and three nights a week. Three years ago, I decided to finally try my luck at the World Series. 2015 was the first year of a new very large event in the WSOP called The Colossus. It set the record for the most players in a single poker tournament. I also played in the Grand Prix that week, of course, which also set a record for biggest Magic tournament. A certain number of players, like myself, were in both record-setting events. I’d love to know how many played in both.

HBMO poker chip on steps of World Series of Poker

It’s been years since the World Series was played downtown at the Horseshoe. Today, the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino is the home of the World Series of Poker. The tournaments are so large that they create a special entrance on the back of the Rio just for World Series players.

Jeff Zandi in 2015 HBMO shirt

My partner in crime this weekend is Maitland Griffith. He’s a committed competitive Magic player. I haven’t been able to pull him into poker yet. Late on Thursday afternoon, he rode over to the Rio with me so that I could sign up for Friday’s poker tournament. Then he and I took a very short cab right over to Caesars Palace to eat the best buffet on the strip.

The World Series of Poker is well-organized and as I find my seat on Friday morning, the parallels between large poker tournaments and large Magic tournaments are everywhere. At a big Magic tournament they try to have a judge for every 25-30 Magic players. At the World Series, obviously, they have to have a dealer at every table for every nine or ten poker players. The announcements at the beginning of the tournament remind me of those at a Magic tournament. There are some dos and don’ts, and then the head official tells the dealers to “shuffle up and deal.”

In my tournament, each player started with 5000 in chips. The starting blinds (forced bets) were twenty-five and fifty. The blinds bets were raised every hour, or level. Every two levels, there was a twenty minute break. I survived the first two levels, and the second two levels. I was moved to another table at the start of level five and never got a good footing there. I was knocked out halfway through level six, at which point the blinds were 150 and 300 and at which point there was an ante of fifty in chips for every player every hand.

I wasn’t happy to get knocked out of the poker tournament but the experience was very satisfying and I know I’ll be back to play in another World Series of Poker event next year. It’s the second most fun thing you can do with cards after Magic.

Saturday at the Grand Prix

It’s Saturday at the Grand Prix, the first day of the limited event. There are 2000 sealed deck players today. Everyone who is 6-2 or better after eight rounds will qualify to return for day two, which will be all booster draft. We’re playing with Dominaria again, just like the sealed deck Beta qualifier that I played on Thursday. Yesterday, 2700 players participated in day one of the Modern main event. My roommate Maitland Griffith went 7-1 and is battling in day two of that event today while I play sealed deck.

Jeff Zandi in 2016 HBMO shirt

My card pool for this tournament is not exciting. As much as I love to play red cards in general, I don’t like red as a main color in Dominaria sealed deck. However, in this particular pool of six booster packs, the best two colors are red and blue. I’m playing Traxos, Scourge of Kroog with ten other historic spells with which to untap it. I have Forebear’s Blade, and Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp, and Adeliz, the Cinder Wind. I have Fight with Fire and Ghitu Chronicler to get back Fight with Fire. I splashed black for two cards, Cast Down and Rona, Disciple of Gix. The worst cards in my deck are a pair of Short Sword cards that I’m playing to help me with Traxos, Zahid and Valduk, Keeper of the Flame. The deck is fine, but it’s not good.

Officially, I entered today’s GP with no byes. Then my first round opponent doesn’t show up for the match. That’s a first round bye in my book. I win round two against another citizen from Utah, a guy named Doug. Then I meet Brandon from northern California in round three. I win game one but lose the match. Brandon still gets a poker chip. I win round four against Jeremy from Minnesota. He’s genuinely interested in coming down to Texas to play in the next Hunter Burton Memorial Open. Connor McKay tells me that he is from “west of the Rockies” when we play in round five. Again, I win game one but lose the match. I’m 3-2 now and one more loss will sink my dreams of drafting on day two. Justin from Salt Lake City takes me down in round six. Once again, I win game one only to be overturned in games two and three.

Sunday in the Pro Tour Qualifier

The thing I would most like to be doing on Sunday at Grand Prix Las Vegas is participating in the Beta booster draft. That’s not going to happen. The next best thing I could be doing is playing in day two of the sealed deck Grand Prix that started yesterday. That isn’t going to happen, either. If I had excelled in the Senior event of the World Series of Poker, I’d could be looking at a very good payday today. That also isn’t going to happen. Instead, I’m taking one more shot at Dominaria sealed deck today in a Pro Tour Qualifier. Not a PPTQ, a real PTQ. The winner of this tournament qualifies for the Pro Tour and wins a travel award. It’s the real deal. I’m excited to take one more shot in one of the best sealed deck formats in a very long time. Dominaria was a wonderful twenty-fifth birthday present from Wizards of the Coast to all of us.

Hunter Burton would have loved this weekend. I admit, it would have been easy for non-Magic adventures in Las Vegas to have distracted him from the Magic-related adventures. That’s a factor that everyone over twenty-one has to deal with at Grand Prix Las Vegas. If he could have been here, however, Hunter would have loved all the Magic events this week. One thing that I always appreciated about Hunter was that he liked all the competitive forms of Magic. He played tons and tons of constructed, but was always thrilled to booster draft as well. Sealed deck was a distant third choice for Hunter, but if he were here at the GP with me, I know he would have rolled up his sleeves (just kidding, Hunter didn’t wear shirts with sleeves) and battled some Dominaria sealed with me.

Joining me in Sunday’s sealed deck adventure is Maitland Griffith. He just missed on a high finish at the Modern Grand Prix yesterday right up until the very last round of day two. One day later, he’s shaken off the disappointment and is ready to battle once again. His wife arrived late yesterday and helped to cheer him up. She’s pretty amazing. She shared their leftover bacon with me this morning. It’s easy to make friends with me if you have bacon.

My sealed pool is not amazing. The two colors that go together the best and offer the most utility are black and green. That means I can play exactly one of my seven rares (I opened a foil rare). It’s a decent one, Phyrexian Scriptures. I also have a couple of very good uncommons including The Eldest Reborn, Icy Manipulator and Grunn, the Lonely King. On the sideline are two rare dual lands, Benalish Marshal, The Mirari Conjecture, Grand Warlord Radha and Verix Bladewing. Verix Bladewing costs 2RR but I still thought long and hard about how to splash for it. I know I made the right decision sticking to black and green.

Jeff Zandi in 2017 HBMO shirt

My first opponent is Jefferson from Salt Lake City. I’ve been running into people from Utah all weekend. He’s playing green/blue and I win 2-0 fairly easily. In round two it’s Anton from Kentucky with white/black. Our three games are grindy as hell and he wins game three with very little time left on the clock. I’m 1-1 now and probably out of contention for the top eight. They structure these Sunday PTQs at Grand Prixs in such a way that if the event maxes out you have to go 6-0 to qualify for the top eight. This event did not reach maximum capacity so there is some chance that one loss could top eight, although it’s unlikely. We’re basically playing for prize wall tickets now.

In round three I meet Eduardo from Mexico. He wins game one easily with his black/blue deck. When he’s about to lose game two, I believe my opponent tried to cheat. He stacked up his lands and thought for a long time, then played two cards for which he needed a total of nine mana. My radar was tingling as soon as he stacked up his lands. I asked him to spread out his lands so that I could see that he had enough mana to pay for both spells. He did so. That’s when I noticed that he needed for three of his nine lands to make black mana for the two spells he played. He only had two lands that made black, as it turned out. Huh. When I pointed out the problem he quickly scooped up his cards. I know exactly what he did and I might be able to prove it but I didn’t call a judge. I don’t think the case is going to be strong enough to definitely get him disqualified. So we play game three, but it’s not fun at all because I’m having to watch Eduardo extra closely. I don’t think we had any issues in game three and I squeaked out the win with just minutes remaining.

My round four opponent is a friend, Bryan Spellman from Denver. Bryan is a level three judge whom I was introduced to by Joe Klopchic back when both of them were mere level two judges like myself. I love it when judges are good at competitive Magic, and Bryan certainly is. Bryan is a brooder, and he is not thrilled to have to play me this round. He knows how much I love limited in general and sealed deck in particular. It doesn’t help his mood when Joe Klopchic comes around in a rather jovial mood. That’s not where Bryan’s at, however, Bryan is all business. Now Bryan and I are men of science and don’t believe in luck, but Bryan certainly did mulligan to five cards on the play in games one and two and lost both of them.

In round five I meet Brandon from Denver, he tells me that he is familiar with Bryan Spellman’s excellent judge work there, as well as Scott Marshall, one of my great judge heroes. Brandon’s deck is black and green like mine and we play three very long games in which we each use almost every card in our decks. Each of us is choosing to draw when possible. He wins game two and I choose to have him play first in game three. He mulligans and goes on to lose just barely. I play a gentleman from Japan in round six, he is also 4-1. He’s a good player but we have a little trouble understanding each other and it makes our games move a little slowly. I manage to defeat his black/white deck in two games.

It’s so unlikely that I could get into the top eight at 5-1 that my sixth round opponent and I go ahead and cross the gigantic tournament floor to pick up our prize tickets without much regard for the Swiss results of the tournament to be posted soon. I run into Maitland at the prize wall and he convinces me to at least go back to the tournament area and check on those standings. You have to understand the scale of these Las Vegas Grand Prix events. The area where the PTQ is being held and the booth where you pick up prize tickets and the prize wall are all in the same room, but it’s a room big enough to park a pair of Boeing 747s in. Possibly three jumbo jets would fit in here. It’s been a long weekend and I’m limping a little as I head back to the PTQ stage just as Swiss results are being posted. I finish in fifteenth place with fifteen points. The top eight included three 6-0s and five 5-0-1s. It’s possible one of those draws was not intentional. It’s not a top eight, and it’s not a tournament win, but it’s a decent way to finish four days of competition.

Joe Klopchic and I spend the evening checking out an excellent Asian-fusion restaurant that happens to be hiding out in a terrible tiny casino far off the strip. The restaurant is called Fat Choy and it came highly recommended by David Williams, who definitely knows where all the good food is in Vegas. Joe and I each had two pork belly bao (pictured) and then he had a noodle dish and I had a rice bowl. The place has a very simple menu that includes what I’m told are some very decent hamburgers and sandwiches as well as modern Asian dishes. It was wonderful and strangely cheap. It’s located in the Eureka Casino on East Sahara Avenue a mile or so east of the strip. I’ll definitely eat at this place again the next time I’m in town.

Joe Klopchic at Fat Choy

The rest of the evening is spent doing low-impact gambling back at the Westgate where Maitland and I stayed both this year and last. Maitland and the missus went to a different Asian restaurant from the list Dave gave us and they had a fabulous meal as well. At some point, the long weekend catches up to you. My plane doesn’t leave until the early afternoon, I don’t need to turn in early, but I’m just plain tired.

On Monday morning, I make the most of my last day in Vegas. I get one more swim in at the Westgate, then I pack up my stuff. That’s no easy task. The idea is to underpack for the Grand Prix so that you have room in your bags to take stuff home with you. I have swag from the Grand Prix, swag from the World Series of Poker and lots and lots of cards and card boxes. My suitcase is so full it’s about to explode and I’m worried I’ll be forced to check it when they see it at the gate.

Jeff Zandi in 2018 HBMO shirt

I think about my friend Hunter as I take my last cab ride of the trip from the Westgate to the airport around lunch time. Hunter and I never did Vegas together, but I know he would have enjoyed this trip. It’s strange the way that some people’s memory just stays with you, sticks to you, in a way that others just don’t. They say that you never make friends when you’re an adult the way you did when you were a kid in school. That’s been pretty true for me. Of course I’ve made lots and lots of friends through Magic, all of which I met after my thirtieth birthday, but really close relationships have been few and far between. I think about Hunter all the time, partially because of my involvement with the annual charity event, obviously. I think about Hunter all the time, but I really don’t think about the way that we lost him, which, of course, was suicide. It’s my friend and the way that he lived that’s important to me, not the way that he died.

Gerry Thompson & The GAM Podcast Confirmed For The 2019 HBMO!

We are so excited to announce that Gerry Thompson will be returning to the 2019 Hunter Burton Memorial Open. Last year Gerry was sponsored by gaming and comic megastore Madness Comics & Games in Plano, Texas. Through their combined efforts they raised hundreds of dollars for the 2018 event in addition to adding plenty of special fundraising efforts and events at their storefront.

This year Gerry will be coming as part of his hit GAM Podcast. Along with castmate and competitive Magic player Bryan Gottlieb, they have added a new level of gaming insight and strategy to the Magic the Gathering world by talking about their experiences, deck choices, current meta, and so much more!

All of us on the HBMO team are excited to have Gerry and Bryan at the 2019 event. Stay tuned for announcements about awesome opportunities to meet them as well as to play some games of Magic with them before and during the 2019 event!

A little bit about Gerry Thompson, Bryan Gottlieb and The GAM Podcast:

GAM PodcastThe GAM Podcast – “We create the best Magic: the Gathering content for competitive players, focusing primarily on the various constructed formats!”
Listen to the podcast here:
GAM Podcast – Soundcloud
GAM Podcast – iTunes



Gerry Thompson - GAMGerry Thompson
is an American Magic the Gathering player. His career accomplishments include two Grand Prix victories, Pro Tour Top 8 at Montreal in 2013, Bilbao in 2018, and a Pro Tour win at Nashville in 2017. He is also known for his repeated success at the StarCityGames tournament series and considered one of the best MtG competitors in the world. His hometown is Elk River, Minnesota.   (Credit Wikipedia)

Bryan Gottlieb - GAMBryan Gottlieb is a stalwart of the Northeast Magic the Gathering scene, Bryan has been playing Magic for over twenty years. While he has seen his share of Grand Prix and Pro Tour success, he is better known in pro circles as a deckbuilder and theorist.





Gerry and Bryan - GAM.PNG