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Does it really matter when I play my land for my turn? Some people get extremely annoyed/agitated when I play a land before spells and I don't actually need the land right away for casting my spells. Does it give away any information of benefit to my opponent, or is it bad for other reasons?

I'm mainly asking about whether to play the land before (as opposed to after), not about whether to play it at all.

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You can play a land for the turn during either main phase, before or after casting spells. There's no hard and fast rule about what time is best to play your land. If someone told you there was, they probably don't have a thorough understanding of the game. But if someone told you that in a specific situation you should've played differently, they might've had a point.

To give an idea, here are some of the things that might come up. These aren't meant to be exhaustive lists, just to demonstrate that it's not a black and white issue.

Reasons you might play a land before casting a spell or going through combat:

  • You need the mana immediately (you're about to spend all you can produce), or you're planning out actions in which you'll eventually want it all available and you want to make sure you count everything correctly.
  • The land has some effect that you want before playing spells (e.g. the scry from Temple of Silence).
  • You might need the mana to pay to keep a spell from being countered (if your opponent might have something like Mana Leak).
  • You have instants you could cast or abilities you could activate, and want to make sure you could do so if something happens in response to the other spells you're playing, or during combat. (Or you want your opponent to think this is the case.)
  • You want your opponent to think there's a lower chance you have other spells in hand.

Reasons you might wait to play a land until after casting spells or after combat:

  • You're going to draw cards and the land you'll choose to play depends on what you draw. (In some cases, this could even include choosing not to play a land at all.)
  • You want to find out what happens when you cast a spell or during combat before you decide what land to play.
  • You want to cast spells or go through combat with your opponent thinking there's a higher chance you have additional spells in hand, or a lower chance that you have a land (and thus that you have less mana available for spells/abilities).

Sometimes you might even consider not playing a land at all for the turn. Usually you don't want to do that since you might need the mana for a bigger spell or multiple spells later. But if that's not an issue, some of the same ideas as above come into play:

  • You might want your opponent to think you have more spells or fewer lands left.
  • You want to wait til later to get a non mana effect from the land.
  • You might have to discard a card later and would prefer it to be the land.

So, yes, there are definitely reasons it might be much better to play a land at one time than at another time - but it's not "always before" or "always after".

  • 1
    One more reason to wait to play land: you are playing a creature (or other spell) with a Landfall ability first. – Jonny May 12 '16 at 14:02
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In all honesty, I think a lot of arguments revolving around information hiding and headgames are overblown. Being able to efficiently sequence your resources and analyze lines of play is far more important than pulling off an occasional bluff or reading tells. And fiddling with land drop sequencing is a fairly minor part of bluffing.

In terms of fundamentals, there are three main scenarios:

  1. You want more land. This is the default, "90% of the time" case. Feel free to play that land as the first action of your first main phase, right after you've had a little bit of time to look at the card you drew and think about how you're going to develop the turn. Why?

    • If you consistently play land right after the draw phase, you're unlikely to forget your land drop for the turn. Even for an experienced player, it's one less detail to keep in your head.

    • You'll have the most mana available for interaction right away: pay off that Spell Pierce, Giant Growth your guy in response to Lightning Bolt, et cetera. (In my experience, the only time I don't want to do this is when I'm actively trying to bait out a Spell Pierce in the first place.)

  2. You need more land, but you're really unsure of how to better develop your board (e.g. you have a Mountain and a Swamp in play and one of each in hand, but you're not sure whether you want to cast your 1BB or 1RR spells after combat). At the beginning of your turn, figure out when that decision point will actually be (e.g. "after the combat phase"), and make a mental note of it.

    If you're worried about forgetting to make the land drop, it's okay to use a physical aid to remind you. Make a note on your notepad or set a counter on top of your library.

  3. You don't especially need more land in play (e.g. you're playing a burn deck and you've already got four or five Mountains in front of you). You may be better off not playing a land at all. Reasons to keep excess land in hand include:

    • Basic bluffing. Only good until your get Duressed or an opponent makes a "Do you have it?" play and it's obvious you don't, but, until then, you are getting some small bit of value out of otherwise useless cards.

    • Discard protection. Dead cards in hand can be used to protect your "live" cards. This is most applicable in formats with random discard or hard-hitting hand-shredders — cards like Rakdos Return and Hymn to Tourach. Helps protect you from discard-based kill cards like The Rack as well.

    • Painless discard fodder for special abilities. Olivia, Mobilized for War, Avatar of Discoard, that sort of thing. Very deck-dependent, of course.

3

Generally in Magic, you want to encourage your opponent to make bad decisions. This can either mean keeping information from them, or revealing information that causes them to misevaluate your plan.

In the early stages of learning the game, I would encourage you to play your land as the first thing in the turn. It reduces the number of things you have to remember by 1 ("have I played a land yet"), and the biggest danger as a new player is information overload. It's very easy to miss a land drop because you're trying to play it as late as possible and forget if you've made one.

From there, as other players, have said, it's about trying to get your opponent to misjudge your intention. For example, you play a land and attack, your opponent assumes you have a specific combat trick and doesn't block, thus sacrificing life for no value. Or you hold the land in your hand with mana available and represent a counterspell or removal spell.

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It doesn't really matter when you play a land, and like all things in magic, it is situation dependent. They key is what information are you giving your opponent by playing the land, and of course, what spell you're playing.

Does the land tap for a color that you don't already have? (eg playing an island with two forests in play) Your opponent suddenly knows that you may have counterspells or your deck is not super aggressive, adjusting his/her use of instants accordingly.

Does playing the land leave you with just the spell in your hand? You've just told your opponent that you don't have any other plans for the turn.

So when you play a land that is "unnecessary", ask yourself if you're giving your opponent any information that may affect your next spell.

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