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Some magic items allow you to cast spells using them, even if you are normally unable to cast such spells, such as the Wand of Magic Missiles or the Helm of Telepathy.

When you cast a spell with such a magic item, can you be visibly seen to be casting the spell? This is relevant to

  1. Whether or not the spell can be Counterspelled
  2. Whether it is obvious to observers that any magic has occurred, if it's a spell like Detect Thoughts that has no visible effect after being cast.
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In general casting from a magic item is imperceptible, but it depends on the magic item

Xanathar's Guide to Everything gives us the general requirements for spellcasting to be perceptible:

To be perceptible, the casting of a spell must involve a verbal, somatic, or material component.

The Dungeon Masters Guide gives rules for Magic Item spellcasting (emphasis mine):

Some magic items allow the user to cast a spell from the item, often by expending charges from it. The spell is cast at the lowest possible spell and caster level, doesn’t expend any of the user’s spell slots, and requires no components unless the item’s description says otherwise.

So, by default, casting from a magic item is imperceptible.

For some items a specific, perceptible action is, however, required to cast the spell from it:

Activating some magic items requires a user to do something in particular, such as holding the item and uttering a command word, reading the item if it is a scroll, or drinking it if it is a potion.

Uttering the command word, or reading aloud from a scroll would be perceptible enough, at my table, to enable counterspell to be used.

Similarly if a spell cast from the magic item requires one or more components (as listed in the item description) it would be perceptible for the purposes of counterspell, at my table.

The effects of the spell may tip an observer off that magic is afoot after the fact

If the spell is counterspellable it would be reasonable for someone to know that a spell has been cast.

Similarly if the spell produces a noticeable effect, like magic missile or fireball, then it is perceptible to an observer (but not necessarily counterspellable depending on the circumstances).

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    \$\begingroup\$ What about a spell cast from an item that requires no components, but does require the item to be held, or even pointed at the target? For example, the Wand of Magic Missiles: "While holding it, you can [...] cast the magic missile spell from it." \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Apr 11 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unrelated to my other comment: spell effects aren't relevant for the purposes of counterspelling, because by the time a spell's effects are perceptible, the spell has already been cast and it's too late to counter it. Obviously, visible effects are definitely relevant to noticing that a spell has been cast at all. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Apr 11 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson that is essentially my second point. Spell effects are not relevant for counterspelling, but they are relevant for noticing that a sspell has been cast. \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Apr 11 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RyanThompson holding or aiming a wand is a grey area. It might be counterspellable...if the opponent has seen you cast magic missiles from that wand in the past (or at least that would be a potential ruling I would make). That's entirely in the realm of "DM adjudicates". \$\endgroup\$ – illustro Apr 11 at 18:30

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