Mists of pandaria, looks like an attempt by blizzard to right the wow ship, the graphics aside from old character models look better, and they are adding new ways to play. Cataclysm's biggest problem was that it added almost nothing new. It was an expansion of rehashes gambling on nostalgia
That's a very interesting take on WoW vs TOR. I think you hit the nail on the head with the comparisons, though I don't think WotLK was the highpoint of WoW - perhaps it was decent until Uldaur was fully released but it kinda went downhill thereafter.
I really don't think Mists will be a serious expansion, at least not for the duration. Pandas were an April Fool's joke in Vanilla WoW and it really seems like they're thinking of retiring WoW, switching to free-to-play and micro transactions, maybe they'll crank out a new MMO or something.
Doubt what you will, but Mists of Pandaria was about as distant a pipe dream as customized lowriders giving out free epics in Stormwind if April Fool's jokes were anything to go by and introducing this expansion marks a notable departure from the 'serious' developments of the last four expansions, it's lighthearted and I think it smacks of finality. And if it's going to be a final thing, then I don't expect it to be a subscription MMO for all eternity.
Like I said, I've never played WoW so I have no idea how the game itself (or its expansions are) is. All I'm saying is that there are over 10 million active subscribers to the game which means it won't go F2P a "couple of patches in".