This thread make me think of something else from the past. Using the little known STATS_STREAM option of the CREATE STATISICS statement, you can re-create production statistics in another database (perhaps a QA environment), and then experiment with estimated execution plans. The table structures can even be empty for this to work, so it can take relatively little time and resources to prepare.
"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Instead, seek what they sought." - Matsuo Basho