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When an opponent targets a creature and I give it hexproof in response (e.g. with Dive Down) it becomes an illegal target for the spell or ability.

This is because target legality for the spell is checked once when putting it on the stack (usually when casting or activating it) and once when it would resolve. Correct?

Then why does the same not work for a spell that cares about power or toughness (e.g. Smite the Monstrous). Why can I not change the power in response to Smite the Monstrous being cast (with some sort of buff effect, e.g. Giant Growth) and make it an illegal target?

Am I wrong in some assumption?

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    Changing the P/T only works if the new P/T is not valid. Smite the Monstrous cares about a minimum power, Giant Growth will push it deeper into legal target territory. – Andrew Sep 30 at 14:11
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You can change the power of the creature targeted by Smite the Monstrous to make it an illegal target. However, a buff effect like Giant Growth won't help there because Smite the Monstrous targets a creature with "power 4 or greater"; if a creature is already a valid target when the spell was cast, increasing its power with Giant Growth won't change that. You would need to decrease its power to less than 4 to make the target illegal. Befuddle, for example, would do it if the creature starts out with power 7 or less.

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This is because target legality for the spell is checked once when putting it on the stack (usually when casting or activating it) and once when it would resolve. Correct?

Yes.

601.2. To cast a spell is to take it from where it is (usually the hand), put it on the stack, and pay its costs, so that it will eventually resolve and have its effect. Casting a spell includes proposal of the spell (rules 601.2a–d) and determination and payment of costs (rules 601.2f–h). To cast a spell, a player follows the steps listed below, in order. A player must be legally allowed to cast the spell to begin this process (see rule 601.3). If a player is unable to comply with the requirements of a step listed below while performing that step, the casting of the spell is illegal ; the game returns to the moment before the casting of that spell was proposed (see rule 723, “Handling Illegal Actions”).

601.2c The player announces their choice of an appropriate object or player for each target the spell requires.

(similar rules exist for activating abilities) and later:

  1. Resolving Spells and Abilities

608.2b If the spell or ability specifies targets, it checks whether the targets are still legal. A target that’s no longer in the zone it was in when it was targeted is illegal. Other changes to the game state may cause a target to no longer be legal; for example, its characteristics may have changed or an effect may have changed the text of the spell. If the source of an ability has left the zone it was in, its last known information is used during this process. If all its targets, for every instance of the word “target,” are now illegal, the spell or ability doesn’t resolve. It’s removed from the stack and, if it’s a spell, put into its owner’s graveyard. Otherwise, the spell or ability will resolve normally.


Then why does the same not work for a spell that cares about power or toughness

That spell works exactly the same way. You can definitely make the creature an illegal target by decreasing its power below 4 (see the emphasis above). However, Giant Growth won't help, since it increases power; you'll need something like Ovinize instead.

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  • Assuming the creature isn't too huge, I wonder if [mtg:Chain to Memory] might be a better parallel (to make it clear that removing all abilities has nothing to do with the situation). – David Z Sep 29 at 23:13
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Giant Growth will work to prevent destruction by spells like Reave Soul, Vanquish the Weak, or the first level of Elspeth's Nightmare. This is because these spells target a creature with power X or less, so making the creature bigger makes it an illegal target. Your example of Smite the Monstrous (or other spells and abilities like it, such as Chop Down, General Kudro of Drannith or Legion's Judgment) care about a creature being power X or greater, so a 4/4 creature after Giant Growth will be a 7/7 creature, which is still 4 or greater and a legal target. For a spell like Smite the Monstrous you need to make the creature power lower to change legality, using something like Chilling Trap or Chain to Memory.

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