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I guess I am just looking for general advice on how to slice'n'dice document library views with items that far exceed 5k (list view limit)

I know the classic one is to have something like "Last 30 days" based on created date, but I looking for best practice for metadata specific scenarios.

Is the only option really to have a managed metadata with tags that you filter on for a view? or are there better options?

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You could up the view threshold limit in Central Admin, but it will still be slow, and depending on how large the list gets, can cause hang-ups in the future. I think you answered your own question really. I would make your views more spacific. In my opinion, using meta columns is the best way. You do not have to show those columns in your view or your forms if you enable your list to manage your content types. Here is a link which descibes the limits of SharePoint. You can have up to 5000 views, so make some meta columns and be more spacific with your filtering on your list views.

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