One of the headline acts from Modern Horizons 2 is, of course, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. This Monkey captured the hearts of many in his first incarnation, and now he’s back and better than ever. This made me think – what other famous monkeys are there in Magic? Turns out, not many (sorry to all the rusted-on fans of Ravenous Baboons, your time will come). However, if we widen the aperture to include apes as well, we get a nice little list of Magic’s top five primates. Here we go!
As a newcomer, Ragavan starts off at number five on this list. In time, however, we will realize the true extent of his power and I imagine he’ll end up a lot higher. This card is already the most expensive addition in Modern Horizons 2 and is perhaps the best red one-drop creature ever printed. Considering it’s competing with the likes of Goblin Guide, that is a high bar to clear indeed.
As you probably already know, Ragavan first appeared on a token created by Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, where he would zip in and out of combat much like his dash ability allows him to do these days. There was no Treasure token or card advantage back then, however, so Ragavan really has put in some effort and managed to completely eclipse poor Kari Zev as one of the best aggressive creatures in Magic’s history.
There was a time that a red one-mana 2/1 had to come with a downside – things like Goblin Cadets, Scarred Puma and of course Jackal Pup. Then they started printing them with cautious upside – Firedrinker Satyr – and now we have Ragavan. I wonder what the next red one-mana 2/1 will involve? Will it be a Mulldrifter, perhaps? Or a Nekrataal? You heard it here first: one-mana Emrakul confirmed.
Ikoria was filled with references to giant, city-razing monsters, and Kogla, the Titan Ape was Ikoria’s King Kong (although not officially, like Godzilla, as Toho don’t own the rights to King Kong despite him featuring in some Toho films). Rather than a damsel in distress, he has a confident-looking warrior in his hand, and rather than climbing the Empire State Building, he’s climbing… a big crystal? I don’t remember that part from the films.
In terms of top-down design, Kogla doesn’t quite get there for me. I like that he comes in and kicks off with another creature – very Godzilla vs. Kong – but I don’t really understand the Disenchant on attack. He smashes stuff up, sure, but what large monster doesn’t? They’re not generally known for their dexterity scores. The activated ability is nice, however, as I interpret it to mean he goes into full-on beast mode when his pet human is taken away from him.
Despite this, however, he doesn’t have reach. Why? Who knows why certain creatures get reach and other don’t? You’d think reach would make sense for a very large climbing animal famous for swatting flying things out of the sky. Maybe it would make too much sense for Kogla to have reach, so they gave reach to Gemrazer instead, which makes no sense. Good of them to keep us on our toes.
A four-mana 5/4 with huge downside is nothing special, and no one is playing this card for its stats or abilities. It’s the name that makes it so brilliant – the Apes of Rath – a very obvious reference to the John Steinbeck novel, The Grapes of Wrath. As you might expect from a book with such a title, it’s a comedic romp that follows an anthropomorphic bunch of grapes that satirically deconstructs a bevy of tired literary tropes about revenge as the grapes attempt to avenge their parents, who were killed in a suspicious wine-making incident.
What? It’s not about that? Well, it should be. That sounds a lot better than a boring story about driving to California or whatever. What’s that? It won a Pulitzer, and Steinbeck won a Nobel Prize? Hm, maybe I’m not cut out for literary critical analysis. I’ll leave it to the experts, like Richard Dawkins.
In any case, Apes of Rath is a first-rate pun that fits magnificently into the Magic multiverse. Rath is plane (it’s where you find the Furnace of Rath, but not, oddly, Akroma), and putting apes onto it must have been too strong a temptation to avoid. Let’s just hope that a giant overgrown one doesn’t try to climb the Stronghold.
Not many primates actually see high-level competitive play. Simian Spirit Guide, however, was so good it was banned in Modern. A critical piece of countless unfair decks, Simian Spirit Guide helped to power out Blood Moons, Chalices of the Void and all sorts of other nasty stuff as early as turn one, as well as being invoked in everyone’s Magical Christmasland combo ideas.
Funnily enough, it was reprinted in Time Spiral Remastered, with new art and everything, shortly after its ban. Imagine getting all dressed up, putting your nice bicep band on, plaiting your beard all fancy-like, only to be told you’re no longer welcome in Modern. Pour one out for Lucas Graciano, he must have been spitting chips.
I mean, come on. As if it were ever going to be any other card. Uktabi Orangutan lives in infamy for the, er, goings-on in the background, where two apes seem to be getting very well-acquainted with one another, in plain view of the camera. At least the flavor text hints at them being married. I’d hate to think those amorous apes are living in sin.
Uktabi Orangutan became such a famous card that it spawned Uktabi Kong, where the result of the background simians is in plain view (and don’t they both seem pleased). Wizards weren’t brave enough to make it a black-bordered card, but the flavor of tapping two apes to make another is pretty spot-on.
Perhaps it’s a statement. Maybe Una Fricker is inviting us to think about the sanitization of the natural world in popular media, and how out there in nature, this is real, this happens – nature is unfiltered, uncensored and uncaring about our prudish sensibilities. Maybe this artwork is designed to challenge your delicacy with a display of the raw carnality of the wild; maybe it’s meant to stand in defiance of the human concepts of propriety and decency we impose on the natural world. Or maybe it’s just a funny card cos it looks like the two apes are shagging, who knows.
Primates aren’t a staple of Magic cards, it’s true, but there have been some classics over the years. Who knows – maybe Ragavan is a bringer of a new golden age of Magic, one where all the best, pushed cards aren’t Jellyfish Hydra Beasts but instead monkeys and apes. I, for one, welcome our new simian overlords!