Yes, you are right. It is completely, typically manual. And I dont disrespect the value of the blossom: first strike and five hex reach is a valuable combination. Each troop has a niche to fill, but it takes a manual fight survey to find them, sometimes.I think the kind of strategy you are talking about requires manual fighting. I run 3 cities and go pretty deep in the tournament and to the top of the spire every week, so I just don't have time to do manual battles anymore. When using autofight Blossom Mages will outperform Bud Sorceresses in almost any encounter. In fact when using autofight 1 star and 2 star Blossoms will typically outperform Bud Sorceresses.
And I also agree with you about the Monasanc. It is expensive, but it is an investment into the longer game. Since we Elves rely so strongly on Golems, I would put in a word on the necessity of the Temple of the Toads.