Maya is much more flexible than 3ds max which only runs on Windows. Maya runs on Mac, Windows and Linux too. But I would rather use Blender which is free and open source and don't have spend thousands of $ on those packages. BTW, our company uses Maya for modeling game characters
If you have manually created a primitive then you must use SetVertexDeclaration. But how ever you don't have to do that when rendering geometry data from x files. Am sure those samples are x files, aren't they?