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From the feat description:

You learn the misty step spell and can cast it once without expending a spell slot. [...] Intelligence is your spellcasting ability for this spell.

As far as I've been able to determine, spellcasting ability is only relevant when there's an attack roll involved, there's a saving throw, or the ability modifier augments damage. In the case of Misty Step, none of the three apply. There are similar cases with other magic racial feats ("Charisma is your spellcasting ability for all three spells," where one of the spells is Detect Magic).

So what's the significance of naming a spellcasting ability?

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At the moment it is rarely relevant...

No standard situations require that a creature utilize their spellcasting ability when casting misty step.

... but it could be in the future

If a later feature (such as a trap or a monster's trait) requires that a creature make an ability check using their spellcasting modifier for any reason, then this will be important. Say, for example, a monster that adjusts spellcasting making a caster roll an ability check with their spellcasting ability or the monster gets to choose the targets for the spell (with some DC). It is the general rule in 5e that any spell cast has a spellcasting ability.

P.S. I use this example, because I have created homebrew monsters with traits like this (among others) in my games.

Spell Thief

For an example of a feature that already uses this type of language, take a look at the Arcane Trickster's Spell Thief feature:

Immediately after a creature casts a spell that targets you or includes you in its area of effect, you can use your reaction to force the creature to make a saving throw with its spellcasting ability modifier.

While misty step can't target an enemy rogue, other spells that typically don't directly utilize a spellcasting ability (such as magic missile) could. In these cases, the spellcasing ability would be used to determine whether the spell is negated and stolen by the rogue.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does this policy that every spell has a spellcasting ability (or its relevance) have any precedent in other editions? \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Veeder Mar 27 '18 at 5:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanVeeder: In 3e, in order to cast a spell a caster needed their spellcasting ability score to be at least 10 + the spell's level. That made spellcasting ability scores universally relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – stwlam Mar 27 '18 at 6:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Other editions have magics, planar traits, etc. which impose limits on teleportation. Having the spellcasting ability handy would be helpful for GMs porting those mechanics in, too. \$\endgroup\$ – minnmass Mar 27 '18 at 13:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe worth pointing out is the Arcane Trickster Rogue's Spell Thief ability which doesn't apply to misty step, but does to some other spells: "Immediately after a creature casts a spell that targets you or includes you in its area of effect, you can use your reaction to force the creature to make a saving throw with its spellcasting ability modifier. The DC equals your spell save DC." \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 15 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: Do racial/feat/non-Spellcasting classes' spellcasting abilities count as a spellcasting ability for Staff of Power? - probably, conditionally, it might be relevant for edge cases like this. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jan 15 at 10:56

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