Let's be frank: that-which-must-not-be-named hinders Wizards of the Coast from printing a really great standalone Cube product. It's a bummer, because Cube is a fantastic format that many casual players would love, but it is also one of the most time- and money- and knowledge-demanding formats around.
To play Cube, you must either: 1) Know someone with a cube, 2) Build your own cube, or 3) Play on MTGO. All three of these options are far outside the realm of likely or even reasonable for casual players. And when I say casual, I'm not talking about Commander players or FNM regulars—that's actually a pretty high commitment level.
I'm talking about the players who buy three or four packs of each new set, who maybe have been to a prerelease or two. The silent majority, I believe WOTC calls them. For these players, Cube would be a great thing for a game night with a few friends, even if all the rules weren't understood with exact precision. But most of the players at this commitment level will never even hear of the format, which is sad.
Of course, even if the Reserved List didn't exist, printing a 600-card standalone product with Power—and, oh yes, I'm aiming high and assuming we'll be printing a version of the MTGO Holiday Cube here—would require a huge, gigantic, enormous MSRP. The Reserved List isn't the only thing keeping WOTC from printing old cards to death: the long-lasting future of the game is also in the company's best interest, after all.
A couple standalone sets of the past found a way to print awesome cards without injecting them into the tournament-legal pool. We had Collector's Edition, which was a standalone set of Alpha/Beta but with a special back and square corners. The square corners came before the omnipresence of sleeved decks, but now that most everyone sleeves up, Collector's Edition cards are highly valued both for their collectibility and usefulness as proxies:
Funny enough, that's about what a real Black Lotus cost when I started playing, which I thought was insane at the time. Ah, the inexperience of youth.
The other way WOTC has printed standalone products free of tournament-legal cards are the old World Champion decks. These were exact copies of some of the top decks from Worlds each year, but with different backs and gold borders (meaning the cards were not tournament-legal). Like Collector's Edition cards, these still hold value today due to their usefulness as proxies.
The thing about these cards is that for non-tournament players who sleeve their decks, these versions are as good as the real thing. On Blogatog, Mark Rosewater often states that the World Champion decks were discontinued because they didn't sell well enough (which is crazy, because I would love to have a copy of each one for my collection, and I suspect I'm not alone. I'm also all too happy to pick up gold-bordered cards for my cube). I have a feeling these would sell just fine today, but I could see WOTC's legal team being concerned that they "circumvent the spirit of the Reserved List," a phrase often invoked by WOTC staff.
So here's what you do: make the cards ten or fifteen percent larger. Make them impossible to play with other Magic cards, and all of a sudden, their only use will be in this standalone set. You could make the cards a little smaller, which might be better for kids and players of smaller stature, but then it would be all too easy to slip them in front of basic lands in sleeves, and you've got the proxying issue again. Making them larger means players would need to mutilate them to use them as proxies, which is much less appealing.
The biggest weakness to this strategy would be if WOTC printed a new version of the product every year or two. You'd be creating two types of players: big cards and normal cards. This type of product should be a one-of, or maybe something revisited every five years or so. Printing big cards too frequently might split the customerbase, and that's absolutely not what WOTC wants.
Even if it was super infrequent, players could buy multiple sets and build sweet Legacy or Vintage decks from all the staples in these. You'd have the two-types-of-players problem, but is WOTC really going to claim that players buying four copies of an inevitably high-priced set for casual play is a bad thing? Tournament players and those with established cubes will still need real cards (or correctly sized proxies), so presumably this should not crash the market on Reserved List staples nor ruin sales of traditional Magic cards.
Let's talk price. Assuming WOTC put in the testing and released a finely tuned powered cube, how much would you be willing to pay for it? I think $200 is reasonable, and would still probably clamor to buy it at $300. Even $400 would tempt me—seriously. The price will seem high to kitchen-table players, but once they understand what the product is and what it contains, I think even they will be on board: "It's the last Magic set we ever have to buy!"
Of course, the possibility of this mentality could be the biggest problem with the product, but if these are the same players that are only spending $20 a set right now, getting a few hundred all at once seems like a fine plan from WOTC's perspective. And if they opt out, they simply continue buying a few packs every set.
What do you think? Any fatal flaws I didn't discuss, or are the weaknesses I did discuss too problematic to truly consider this idea? Sound off below.