The Ustilago maydis-maize pathosystem has emerged as the current model for plant pathogenic basidiomycetes and as one of the few models for a true biotrophic interaction that persists throughout fungal development inside the host plant. This is based on the highly advanced genetic system for both the pathogen and its host, the ability to propagate U. maydis in axenic culture, and its unique capacity to induce prominent disease symptoms (tumors) on all aerial parts of maize within less than a week. The corn smut pathogen, though economically not threatening, will continue to serve as a model for related obligate biotrophic fungi such as the rusts, but also for closely related smut species that induce symptoms only in the flower organs of their hosts. In this review we describe the most prominent features of the U. maydis-maize pathosystem as well as genes and pathways most relevant to disease. We highlight recent developments that place this system at the forefront of understanding the function of secreted effectors in eukaryotic pathogens and describe the expected spin-offs for closely related species exploiting comparative genomics approaches.