I guess that is it in a nutshell. The fluffy list maker has a thematic idea that they want to preserve while making a list that is likely to play well. I agree with your general sense that if that is so, then you expect to see words to the effect of explaining what the thematic part is, so you can offer appropriate advice around that.2) I don't want a cookie cutter competitive list, but I don't want my list to completely suck.
I was thinking about this today. I recognise the efficacy of spam lists, and was wondering if it will boil down to their being a pretty standard setup that all SM must play, with little variation. That would indeed suck.