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What is the Maze of Ith depicted in the MTG Land cards?

Maze of Ith MTG Land card

Maze of Ith MTG Land card cropped showing image

Is it a metaphor for the cage Lord Ith was held in?

Barl's Cage MTG Land card

To voluntarily run this maze would seems horrifying, the stuff of nightmares.

It's other depictions though show more traditional yet possibly endless mazes. They remind me of the maze planes from the unrelated fiction of Planescape Torment.

Maze of Ith Planescape Torment card

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    I've edited this so the images are inline in the post but they are quite big so you may wish to replace them with some smaller versions. – TheLethalCarrot Jan 2 '19 at 12:53
  • Thanks :) They are fitting to the width of the view/screen here on IOS in Chrome. There are plenty of lower resolution and so less clear images online, I thought these would be best. – alan2here Jan 2 '19 at 13:09
  • Would this be better on a CCG or Gaming SE site? I don't recall MtG having a very fleshed-out mythology, though I freely admit to having not had much interest in it for the past 15 years or so. – Jeff Jan 2 '19 at 13:20
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    @Jeff - there's a lot of worldbuilding behind it, although since it features multiple themed worlds and the "planeswalkers" that hop between them like gods, lots of little things are half-formed, and plenty of big things don't make it to the flavor text on the cards. – Radhil Jan 2 '19 at 18:56
  • I contacted the artist's fiance through their Web site a couple hours ago, and pointed her to this question. And it looks like she already answered below! – Buzz Jan 2 '19 at 23:46
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this is Brenda of Anson Maddocks Art. This artwork was created prior to the heavy art direction and story narrative which we now see with MTG. None of the card mechanics, characters nor back-story was known to Anson. He had only the card title "Maze of Ith" from which to work.

Like most of Anson's illustrations, before creating Maze of Ith, he first sought to conceptualize something which would be original and unexpected. Anson feels that as a visual artist, particularly a sci-fi/fantasy artist, one of his primary "duties" is to create imagery which the viewer would not likely have come up with on their own. He didn't want to paint yet another garden hedge maze that everyone has already seen a hundred times. And so he came up with a biological maze which is a creature; an organic maze that depicts both the cerebral and intestinal. There is a human form trapped inside of it, which could represent either your opponent or yourself, as we are often just as likely waging internal battles with ourselves than with anyone else. And the cerebral-intestinal context reminds us that in order to solve puzzles and problems we must use both our intellect and our intuition (or gut) in order to prevail. We must digest or process our demons or enemies before we can glean the wisdom they can offer us, before one emerges successfully from a challenge we must go deep inside of ourselves to fully understand what motivates and sustains us and that these processes work together in tandem...

At least this is what I understand from my discussions with Anson about Maze of Ith..If you have any further questions, please let me know and I will be happy to ask Anson for clarification.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F! This is a really interesting answer, since you've talked directly to the artist; thanks for contributing! – DavidW Jan 2 '19 at 23:24
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    Thank you so much for responding promptly to my query! – Buzz Jan 2 '19 at 23:43
  • Very interesting :) – alan2here Jan 3 '19 at 18:36
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It's probably just a maze.

The original cards that mention Ith are from the set The Dark, which was an early set released just a bit before the Fourth Edition core set and the Ice Age. In terms of the overarching story it tied the end of the Brother's War to the Ice Age, the explosive conclusion kicking up enough debris to blot out the sun. Lord Ith became a character for the Ice Age cycle of tie-in novels for Magic written by Jeff Grubb, and was an archmage and founder of The Conclave.

Lord Ith got his own card for Time Spiral, which has the exact same ability as the Maze named for him, and is not associated with any of the color branches known for tying people up in intestines (he's a white/blue). Early set Magic cards were well regarded for their art, but it was not yet a giant juggernaut of a game with a well coordinated lore and image (they were only just getting noticed for daring to have a pentagram as part of the artwork, witchcraft!), so crawling through a maze of guts was likely an artist interpretation.

So Maze of Ith is likely either a spell the archmage can cast to entrap an opponent for a time, or some invention of his that protected The Conclave. Likely the tie-in novel The Gathering Dark has more information, but I do not have access to that content at the moment. What little I can find leans towards the latter.

(There is an archived article that mentions Barl and Ith were originally conceived as the same person, Barl being a name and Lord Ith being a title. That was changed in error by the author, but kept.)

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    I'd forgotten half of this, kind of enjoyed digging into it. If a better sourced answer from the novel comes along, I'll drop this one. – Radhil Jan 2 '19 at 19:46

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