10th Edition Competitive Faction Focus: Adeptus Custodes (Updated February 2, 2024)

The January Balance Dataslate really shook up the meta and in some cases drastically changed how our favorite Index armies were being played. Today, Peter “The Falcon” Colosimo takes an updated look at the Adeptus Custodes, who took several big hits to their favored playstyles back in September and are just now being brought back into the limelight.

Hi kids, do you like violence? Do you wanna deep strike 9-foot-tall golden warriors into your opponent’s deployment? Copy me and do exactly like I did? Drop Nids and apply gold paint to plastic?

Good. We’re best friends now, we’re obviously passionate about the Emperor of Mankind and we can rejoice because we are in a beautiful place. The first month of #New40k has given everyone a chance to see which factions have established themselves as the early winners and losers this edition, and the shining bodyguards of the Emperor are definitive winners. While we may or may not be as game-definingly powerful as armies like Eldar and Genestealer Cults, we hold our own very well, and do not rely on some of the more problematic features of the game, theoretically future-proofing us until our codex drops.

Changelog

  • Update (Latest): 2024-02-01 for the Q1 2024 Balance Dataslate
  • Published: 2023-08-04

Q3 Balance Dataslate Update:

Oh how naive I was…like the young but naive surfer/weightlifter/bassist and charming Joe Rock N’ Roll, I did not expect the amount of change we saw in the Custodes index back in September. Characters and core infantry units saw increases in points, unit sizes were decreased, stratagem use was nerfed and perhaps most ‘devastating’ of all was the change to devastating wounds which greatly hindered Custodes’ survivability in several match-ups. Custodes were in a really rough place and it showed all over the stats in the last 4 months. They just couldn’t hang with the big boys anymore. But now? We’re back, baby! Let’s take a quick look at the changes before diving into the faction itself.

January 2024 Dataslate Changes:

The January 2024 Dataslate made a number of key changes to the Adeptus Custodes, aimed at raising them back up after they were nerfed into the dirt by the Q3 update. In addition to the nerfs to other top factions, the Aegis of the Emperor Detachment Rule was changed to: “Adeptus Custodes models from your army have the Feel No Pain 4+ ability against mortal wounds and Critical Wounds caused by attacks with the [DEVASTATING WOUNDS] ability.” This is a major buff and was both well-deserved and necessary. Now Custodes have a more realistic chance against some of the high-damage Dev Wounds threats out there, particularly those which can gain re-rolls to wound rolls as a way to fish for dev wounds.

Additionally not the following point drops:

  • Allarus Custodians down 5 points per model.
  • Custodian Guard down 5 points per model.
  • Custodian Wardens down 5 points per model.
  • Shield-Captain on Dawneagle Jetbike down 40 points per model.
  • Vertus Praetors down 5 points per model.

These don’t amount to an extra unit of Custodians in most lists, but they do typically mean an extra unit of Sisters or an extra ally to work with, giving lists more versatility.

Credit: Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones

5 Things You Need to Know About the Adeptus Custodes

  1. They are one of the only functional close combat armies currently in the ‘mostly-Index Era’.
  2. Their Infantry options are fantastic, every unit can hold its own without support.
  3. CP management is extremely important, their stratagems are incredible but also expensive.
  4. Fights First is going to shape your games if you plan on being successful.
  5. Everything knows karate.

Why Play the Adeptus Custodes (the Coolest Faction)?

Much of the below has not changed from the glory days of June. It is just that these words have been tempered by all that has come since. Just like how Storm Shadow’s raging heart was tempered by his interaction’s with the Joes until he eventually became ‘the other cool ninja’ in the fold.

So why are you here? Do you like to punch things and have them actually removed from the table? Do you like manipulating close combat situations and forcing your opponent to make difficult choices? Do you want to FEEL like your models are doing heroic things in a game with lore that tries to highlight heroic acts in the face of inevitable encroaching darkness? Do you want to show a skill other than target priority and a basic understanding of probability? Then you need to be playing this army.

First, as mentioned above, in my opinion Adeptus Custodes are one of the only close combat armies in 10th edition. While some factions only have 1 or 2 units that can dish out damage in close quarters, the changes to charges this edition, and the reduction of AP/damage across the board on melee attacks has made the fight phase anemic. Custodes either bypass many of these problems, or fully take advantage of them. We have Katahs that have meaningful impact in each fight phase, access to on-demand Fight First, amazing HQs, and an entire army that can deep strike/rapid ingress. All of it feels great on the table.

Second, let’s focus on that concept of feeling. This army feels like they should when you play them. The Adeptus Custodes are marketed as the elite of the elite. They are the Emperor’s Companions. Each member of the Ten Thousand is often described as an army in and of themselves. The problem with that is they have been trying to establish an identity that overlaps with so many other armies of the imperium. Grey Knights are the elite of the elite, so are Space Marines. Each Imperial Knight is an army in and of itself. How do you fit them in without making them more of the same? Games Workshop has said time and again that something they strive to do with their codexes is give each army an identity that draws their players to them. When there is that much overlap in faction identity, how do you make Custodes feel like they should be their own army? How do you make each model feel like a hero without breaking the game?

Pendulin's Custodes
Pendulin’s Custodes

In just about every game, there is a moment where individual models do incredible things, and that’s how it should be. A handful of Allarus wade into hordes of enemy models and come out unscathed, Wardens march into withering firepower and somehow stand tall on their objectives, a Shield-Captain tears the head off of an enemy warlord, these moments can make otherwise boring games memorable.

I said before that this game is at its best when it elicits a kind of cinematic feeling as it progresses while being competitive, and that still happens with Custodes. Sure, sometimes you are stuck gliding from 1 piece of terrain to the next because your opponent has the firepower access to negate your in-built defenses, but it isn’t necessarily the rule.

What Are the Must-Have Units for the Golden Host?

The balance dataslate in September really upended the ‘must-have’ question for Custodes. Point cost increases made many of the characters less appealing and Custodian Guard being limited to 5 model units made them less of the auto-include that they used to be. January though? We’re bringing it back!

As to what I consider Must-Haves right now?

Custodes Tribune Ixion Hale
Custodes Tribune Ixion Hale. Credit: Jack Hunter

Let’s start by windmill slamming a Blade Champion into your lists right this minute. Snake Eyes was tragically withheld from the direct-to-video GI Joe animated film (1987) and probably the reason it did not get nominated for best animated film at the Oscars (even moreso than because it was not yet a category or because it was actually awful), and just like Snake Eyes, I see too many people withholding this master of arms from the table. The Blade Champion is a low key allstar. Our fast-moving threats just do not currently hold up to the rest of the index and the Blade Champion shores up some of those speed issues giving us a model that provides advance and charge rerolls, a once-per-game advance and charge, and a truly scary beatstick that becomes game-changing with either of our better enhancements. Ceaseless Hunter on a Blade Champion attached to a squad of Wardens or Guard is a brutal piece for opponents to deal with.

Adeptus Custodes Blade Champion by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

Speaking of, Custodian Wardens are perhaps more important than ever. Resolute Will and Living Fortress do a great job of mitigating some of the loss of resiliency the army suffered when Custodian Guard were limited to 5 model units. Having a squad of 5 for each of your characters is a well worth it.

In the cinematic masterpiece GI Joe: The Movie, Sgt Slaughter and his Renegades trained the rookie Falcon in the true art of being an American Hero, and then he suplexed a giant snake creature through the crust of the Earth to save the world. Trajann Valoris is our Sgt Slaughter. If you’re not taking Trajann Valoris now that the air has cleared on how his Captain-General ability functions you’re not even trying to win. The ability to ignore damage reduction on one of your units is absolutely critical if you’re playing into any number of factions (and by this I mean Codex: C’Tan) and the fact he also provides your guys in gold with Fights First once per game is absolute gravy.

Finally, the stock on the Caladius Grav Tank is way up with the nerfs to some of the other factions. If you are keen on Forgeworld, or just want to lay waste to your opponents from afar, you should invest in a 1 or 2. The core index for Custodes is lacking in reliable anti-tank/monster shooting and the Caladius with Twin Arachnus Blaze Cannon is priced to move. While you can absolutely karate chop these threats to death, or just stand in the open and roll 4s, some matchups become a whole lot easier with a liberal application of ranged murder. Hasbro would have never had to add a dub to the end of the award-winning film ‘The GI Joe Movie’ (1987) saying Duke had actually woken up from his coma if he’d just shot Serpentor with 4 blaze cannons when the movie started, instead of catching strays like a punk because his half-brother left his post to flirt with a new recruit.

Trajann Valoris
Trajann Valoris. Credit: Pendulin

What Units or Options Should You Avoid?

Jet Bikes are much improved with the steep discount on the Jet Bike Captain in this slate and their continued drop in points, but I’m not sure they’re there yet. As before, the changes to the Fly special rule, nerfs to their ranged options and no Toughness bump like the rest of the army received, puts the Jet Bike and it’s Forgeworld variant in a pretty rough spot. Perhaps there’s a spot for a small unit with a captain attached but I’m not sure it is necessary.

Our other sore point is still the guardian axe option for our HQs, Allarus, and Wardens. While damage 3 is amazing, the loss of WS, attacks AND AP to get it makes the choice a no brainer. As it stands there really is no reason to run them and it is a shame. I would love to see axes get at least 1 of those stats increased before I’d consider using them over guardian spears.

How Do the Adeptus Custodes Secure Objectives?

With an army made up of OC 2 or 3 (with Vexilla) models that are generally difficult to kill, take up a large footprint, and actively want to be close to the enemy, that’s how. They are an army of Roadblocks! As one of the only factions with a strong melee focus, even small squads often require a significant use of resources to move. The question isn’t how do we secure objectives, it is how do we keep our opponents from taking them back?

How Does The Coolest Faction Handle Enemy Hordes?

As the great Day9tv once said, ‘Just Fucking Kill Them’. The Emperor’s Finest have a few avenues for dealing with hordes, Allarus Terminators come with handy Ballistus Grenade Launchers with the Blast keyword, Witchseekers are actually a decently cheap unit with Scout outfitted with flamers, but perhaps most importantly, our basic Custodian Guard have a large number of high quality attacks AND they can double-shoot with their spears once per game, making most hordes a walk in the park if they don’t just come back from the dead over and over again. Honestly, strolling through hordes is simple with most of the army.

Allarus Custodians
Allarus Custodians. Credit: Pendulin

How Does The Faction Handle Enemy Tanks and Monsters?

Custodes have a few answers to high toughness targets. Slayers of Nightmares is a powerful stratagem, allowing our Allarus, or Wardens to punch up at a solid rate against scarier targets they can’t pull down on their own. While Allarus Terminators are slower than their other infantry buds, they get full wound rerolls into Characters, Vehicles, and Monsters with Slayers of Tyrants, while still putting out enough shots that they can pick up a respectable amount of lower toughness targets if need be. A full 5-man squad with Captain can reliably take down or cripple a Knight in 1 round of combat without extra resources and that is a pretty solid bar to hold to. Add in the Rendax Stance for Lethal Hits and we generally do not struggle against most big units so long as we can get in close and dictate when we hit them. Otherwise, if you find yourself struggling in a really Vehicle heavy meta, the Calladius Grav Tank absolutely smooths over any deficiencies we have in that regard if you can hide them. Being able to destroy a couple of Armigers or a Lancer early with the Blaze Cannons relieves a lot of early game pressure.

Final Thoughts

Custodes are well positioned in the current meta to be an excellent foil to the strongest armies in the game. They hold objectives well, are brutally effective in close combat, and direct the pace of the game with ease. While a list running a Blade Champion, Trajann, Kyria Draxus, a couple Caladius and a mix of Guard and Wardens is definitely a threat everyone will need to manage going forward, the current state of the game means they have a whole slew of interesting options to put on the table. So go out a get some for the Emperor…or whatever. GO JOE!!!

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