thanks alex. i ended up installing eclipse integration for apache maven (eclipse iam), formerly q for eclipse
this plugin solved two problems: populating properties files during publish to server events in eclipse and populating the web-inf/lib folder. before, even though i was running mvn eclipse:eclipse to satisfy my build path in eclipse, it was not publishing these dependencies to the embedded servers correctly. this plugin does that. having solved these two issues, i don't see any other barriers to developing a maven project in eclipse using the embedded servers.
you can effectively run any maven command (including ones with profiles) through the m2eclipse plugin. also, m2eclipse works with wtp (which i believe is where the servers tab comes from). i'm not certain on this part, but i've used it to deploy web apps to tomcat within eclipse for a maven project.
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