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Hmm, symlinking worked for me, and I wonder why you were successful with but not as the former is simply a symlink to the latter. This is how I set up a local VM (didn't want to reboot my laptop ;-)), which booted and didn't start X/gdm just fine:

nils@f16:~> ls -l /lib/systemd/system/{runlevel3,multi-user}.target /etc/systemd/system/
lrwxrwxrwx. 1 root root  37 Nov 15 13:40 /etc/systemd/system/ -> /lib/systemd/system/
-rw-r--r--. 1 root root 509 Oct 19 12:42 /lib/systemd/system/
lrwxrwxrwx. 1 root root  17 Oct 25 17:22 /lib/systemd/system/ ->

Not sure right now how to make this the permanent default for your user (i.e. so you only had to type "startx"), but this worked for me to start KDE out of

nils@f16:~> startx /usr/bin/startkde