When MySQL gets a query, it is the job of the optimizer to find the cheapest way to execute that query. Decisions include access method (range access, table scan, index lookup etc), join order, sorting strategy etc. If we simplify a bit, the optimizer first identifies the different ways to access each table and calculate their cost. After that, the join order is decided.
However, some access methods can only be considered after the join order has been decided and therefore gets special treatment in the MySQL optimizer. For join conditions, e.g. "WHERE table1.col1 = table2.col2", index lookup can only be used in table2 if table1 is earlier in the join sequence. Another class of access methods is only meaningful for tables that are first in the join order. An example is queries with ORDER BY ... LIMIT. Prior to MySQL 5.6.10 there was a bug in MySQL that made the optimizer choose inefficient execution plans for this query type. That's the topic I discuss below.