Not sure where the vanilla nostalgia really factors in. Not every epic was a gift from the heavens.
Ex.1: half of the world drop BoE epics were terrible, using more than their extra budget on useless stats (thinking of that mail chest in particular with 5 Agi and 24 Spirit). The only thing they were good for was selling for lots of money because people paid money for purple.
Ex.2: Some of the items in MC were awesome, but a lot were not. Nobody was happy to see Vendorstrike drop. Sure, it was a 2H from a boss towards the end of the instance, but nobody got there without a better weapon. Arcanite Reaper was leaps and bounds better. Any of the i63 blues from the top 5-mans were better.
And yeah this changed over time; TAQ and Naxx weren't terrible in this regard, but even during TBC there were some bad items. I don't think it was until Wrath that you could be sure an epic was actually an upgrade. Interestingly that's right about when people stop looking at epics as having some sort of special status.