Commander Staples – Maze of Ith

Many years ago, when I was but a teeny tiny pre teen, I was introduced to Magic the Gathering by a friend. Revised Edition was in stores, but so were the occasional things like Arabian Knights, Antiquities and Legends packs. While I never had the cash for those, as they were expensive from the get go, I did have cash on hand when The Dark expansion dropped just a few months after I started playing.

The Dark was weird. It was lead designed by then Magic Art Director Jesper Myrfors, who painted the basic Plains cycle in Alpha-Revised, among other things. Apparently the Brothers’ (Urza and Mishra) War kicked up a lot of debris and ash and stuff in Dominaria, like an erupting volcano, and things got dark. Dark.

Did I mention The Dark was weird? It had a bunch of cards that ignored the young colour pie that was still cooling on the windowsill, and even came in 8 card packs. I opened one of those the day I was introduced to the set. I don’t remember what cards 1 through 7 was, but at the back of the pack was the weirdest Magic card I’d ever seen. It was like a bunch of intestines, with someone in them, and it was a Land!

I’m not sure who exactly came up with Maze of Ith, but it has been a strange and unique part of Magic for me and many others since it came out of The Dark packs all those years ago. The strategic potential was obvious to me immediately. And like several of my cards in those days, my friends hated it.

Gone were the days where they could power out a big monster before I could deal with it, and biff me to death. Now I could attack multiple creatures into a single blocker, and expect them all to survive no matter what. In multiplayer games I had this strange power, where any time anyone wanted to attack, they’d have to look at me first.

Those were also the days of land destruction decks, Armageddon-based decks, and stuff that won without creatures, so things balanced out. Maze of Ith, like the Dark, was eventually less cool than Ice Age, and phased out by Mirage, and relegated to the kitchen table for a long time. We got an Ith card after some time, but he’s a bit lost, himself.

Then Commander started really gathering steam as a format, and the potential of eternal cards was turned over again and again, and obvious powerhouses like Maze of Ith grew in price and notoriety, and became chase reprints in sets like Double Masters. Now it’s easy for the Maze to be considered a Commander Staple, but why don’t we break it down a little, and dispel some popular misconceptions anyway?

On the surface, we have a colourless land with no inherent colour identity. That means it goes in any deck. It doesn’t produce mana, however, so it will cost a land drop, but won’t contribute to the curve. That can be mitigated by cards like Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, but it’s probably not good to rely on the Maze for making mana. Unless my curve is low, I rarely count it as a land in my decks.

Maze of Ith has built its reputation on being a super-defender. More than anything else, it shuts down the attack power of the biggest thing coming at you. That creature gets ‘lost in the Maze’. While this can shut down a Voltron or ‘go tall’ strategy completely, many of those have adapted and play stuff like Swiftfoot Boots, Lightning Greaves, and other stuff that makes targeting their stuff harder. If you pillowfort, and want to Maze your opponents’ stuff no matter what, you can pack Detection Tower and Arcane Lighthouse to counter hexproof and shroud.

On offense, Maze of Ith allows you to save an attacker that has walked into a combat trick trap. If you attacked with 3 creatures, and one will be blocked and die, you can save that one. If you have an attacking creature with a tap activated ability, and it suddenly becomes more important than attacking, you can untap that creature and use it.

In multiplayer, you can interfere with combat math once per turn cycle at least, and that can really skew how a table interacts with each other. You can save other people from being attacked, possibly at some sort of price, or as a shield between you and the rest of the table. You can negate attacks for value, like creatures that allow their controller to draw a card when they do combat damage to a player. That’s especially relevant when that creature is the only one on the battlefield, or one of a very few.

There’s a lot of wacky, corner case material here, and I’m sure there are plenty of interesting tricks to do with the Maze of Ith that I will discover in the years to come. But there’s something that the Maze doesn’t do, that seems to be a common misconception among Magic players. At least the ones I’ve played with.

Many Magic players, including long-standing Commander players, including some with Maze of Ith in their decks, are under the assumption that Maze of Ith removes a creature from combat. It does not. It untaps the creature and prevents combat damage both to and from it for the duration of the turn. Here’s the Double Masters version.

So what does that mean, exactly? It means the creature is still attacking for Ninjitsu purposes.

It can still take your Coveted Jewel.

If it is blocked, it is still blocked, and if it kills blockers regardless of damage, it still kills them.

If the attacking player would begin another combat step, that creature does no damage during that step either. That little wrinkle saved my life once.

And you might still get poisoned.

Commander is a format of juggernauts, heavyweights, and wacky jank, but one thing almost everyone agrees on is that Land destruction is not so cool. While you do have to watch out for pinpoint land destruction like Ghost Quarter, Maze of Ith and other powerful utility lands can be very hard to interact with. They certainly can’t be countered. More than anything else, that’s what makes it a true Commander Staple.

While Maze of Ith is not a cheap card to buy, more printings means cheaper, and it’s a rare in Double Masters, not a mythic. It’s also a card that has very little end to demand, so keep an eye on prices if you want one. Even if they get low, it’s unlikely to last. If you’re playing Commander, you can get one, and just shuttle it between decks if you have to. While cards like Mystifying Maze and Labyrinth of Skophos are similar, they are not at the same level at all.

It’s tough for me to endorse an expensive card right now, but this is one that’s worth it. The creme de la creme of Commander Staples are usually cards that can go in any deck, have absurd strategic potential, and are fun to play. Maze of Ith kills it on all counts. All things considered, including opening that weird pack of 8 cards with the weird intestine land at the end, Maze of Ith is probably my favourite Magic card. Hopefully it is one of yours too, and the bane of your enemies! Thanks for reading!

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