Jack Harpster’s Competitive Review of Codex: Adeptus Custodes

The Adeptus Custodes have always been intriguing, an army of golden armored peerless warriors striding the battlefield. Sadly, their last codex ended up as an army of forge world dreadnoughts whose only plan was to tank hits from your opponent for five turns. Well, the new codex is out and boy does it mix things up. I’m Jack from the Art of War and I’m here to talk about the facelift our favorite boys in gold have just received and to give the aspiring shield captains out there a place to start with the new book.

This article isn’t designed as a comprehensive review; if you’re looking for that I would recommend checking out Goonhammer’s review of the book. Instead, I’m going to focus on my first takes of the codex and where I’ll be starting with new Custodes as a competitive army. 

If you want to see my Custodes in action, feel free to check out the Art of War on YouTube or in the War Room, where we have video battle reports and streams.

Trajann Valoris by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

The Units

First things first, let’s look at the key players in the new book. Trajann Valoris is a massive standout and very likely the best named character in the game. He supplies a seemingly endless well of CP as well providing re-rolls and a potent melee threat.

Unlike Trajann, who was an auto-include in the old book and only became more so, Vertus Praetors really went from zero to hero in this new codex. They gained an extra wound, their interceptor lance became more deadly when you factor in nearby wound re-rolls and their salvo launcher is now a deeply serious threat. They still don’t have the durability to run straight at your opponent (few units in 40k do), but they are frankly amazing at picking away at your opponent’s army and finding a weak flank and crushing it.

Finally, Custodian Wardens now don’t just look cool, they gained the bodyguard rule preventing your opponent from shooting your characters while they’re within 3” of the Wardens. This allows cheeky plays such as putting the Wardens out of line of sight behind a wall and placing a character safely 3” away on an objective. Bodyguard is a great rule to have in 9th edition and now custodes have access to it.

Allarus Custodians
Allarus Custodians. Credit: Pendulin

Shield Hosts

With those units in mind, the playstyle of Adeptus Custodes depends on the shield host you choose.

  • Solar Watch has a very aggressive, infantry centric playstyle with a suite of mobility tools such as access to advance and charge, but further testing is required to see if the comparatively mediocre offense of the custodes infantry can support such an aggressive playstyle. I imagine that with bikes and dreadnoughts providing the punch, the solar watch infantry’s mobility can shine.
  • Shadowkeepers was the best shield host of the last book, mostly for access to on demand -1 strength on incoming attacks. That stratagem has lost its greatest use-case as it no longer applies to vehicles. However the newly buffed vertus praetors really benefit from it and Shadowkeepers has gained in other areas. Their phenomenal trait, relic and warlord trait more than make up for the loss. Shadowkeepers are hard to kill and can make some of the best characters in Adeptus Custodes and as such benefit from a slightly more defensive game plan.
  • My pick of the shield hosts is the Emperor’s Chosen for their sheer flexibility and reliability. The free hit and wound re-roll is massive for evening out the low quantity of high quality attacks that Custodes put out and their 4+ feel no pain roll against incoming mortal wounds helps in almost every matchup. My favorite part of Emperor’s Chosen is their stratagem, which allows your units to become a different shield host for a turn, giving you a massive toolbox in an army that already feels like it has great flexibility. Emperor’s Chosen also favors a more conservative style of play, however once you’ve picked away at your opponent’s army and they can’t stop an aggressive push you can end the game very quickly.

Custodes Contemptor-Achillus Dreadnought
Custodes Contemptor-Achillus Dreadnought. Credit: Pendulin

The List

++ Emperor’s Chosen Battalion Detachment ++


Trajann Valoris
Shield-Captain on Dawneagle Jetbike – Tip of the Spear, Castellan’s Mark, Auric Exemplar, Superior Creation, Misericordia


3x Custodian Guard – Swords and Shields
3x Custodian Guard – Spears
5x Prosecutors


Contemptor-Achillus Dreadnought
Contemptor-Achillus Dreadnought
Contemptor-Galatus Dreadnought – Eternal Penitent
3x Custodian Wardens – Axes
Vexilus Praetor – Axe, Misericordia, Vexilla Magnifica, Impregnable Mind

Fast Attack

3x Vertus Praetors – Salvo Launchers
3x Vertus Praetors – Salvo Launchers


Codex: Adeptus Custodes is one of the most flexible books out there and this list takes full advantage of that fact. This list has a mix of speed and anti-tank firepower in the Vertus praetors and an absolute wall of durability in the form of three dreadnoughts pushing the midfield under an aura of dense cover provided by the vexila. The infantry is there to trail behind – out of line of sight – and lock objectives down; shield guard can be phenomenally difficult to shift especially with three dreadnoughts demanding immediate attention.

The bikes are at their best in the Emperor’s Chosen shield host, making use of the free re-roll on their salvo launchers and gaining maximum flexibility through combinations of Ka’tahs and alternate shield host traits. Does your opponent have a horde of scary models in the midfield? A quick switch to Shadowkeepers for -1 attack and Dacatarai for 1” pile ins and consolidates will ensure their units will kill nothing and go nowhere. Are your bikes locked in combat with an Ork army bearing down on you? Better switch to Solar Watch for fall back and charge at +1” while activating Rendax, bringing their interceptor lances up to strength 8 and ripping ramshackle vehicles apart. There are a ton of combinations and uses here and they make for a deeply fun way to play 40k.

And That’s not even touching on the deep suite of ways the Adeptus Custodes have to shut down enemy aggression. Tanglefoot grenades will shut enemy charges down while you spam the newly discounted defensive stratagems such as Arcane Genetic Alchemy, Emperor’s Auspice, and a new melee deterrent, Creeping Dread. These Stratagems are priced to move and now it is a very viable play to activate multiple defensive abilities simultaneously. It is difficult-to-impossible to shift a unit of shield guard in light cover with -1 to be hit, who can only be wounded on a 4+ and cannot be re-rolled against. With every model in the army counting as two for controlling objectives, your opponent will find it deeply frustrating trying to swing objectives as they watch you racking up the primary score.

Adeptus Custodes Dawneagle Jetbikes by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

Let’s talk matchups. I have tested Custodes into a variety of top armies at time of writing and have yet to have a problematic matchup. Grey Knights and Orks both have difficulty killing your units and die to your return fire, giving you the edge. The matchup is particularly bad for Orks if you include a dense cover aura on your vexilla, whereas Grey Knights can barely kill a model under a light cover aura. Thousand Sons struggle mightily with either Emperor’s Chosen’s ability to shrug mortal wounds, sisters of silence eating smites for free, or both as I imagine most Emperor’s Chosen lists will include at least one unit of sisters. Space marine shooting builds tend to rely on dreadnoughts, which drop very quickly to custodes’ shooting and their melee builds tend to rely on lightning claws which get murdered by emperor’s auspice turning their re-rolls to hit and wound off. This is a bit oversimplified but I’m confident that Custodes have a good lead in those matchups. Tyranids and Adeptus Mechanicus could be two of the harder matchups for Custodes, at least on paper. I haven’t had a chance to test those matchups yet but hive guard double shooting all game could be a real problem for Custodes, although it’s easy to imagine custodes weathering enough shooting to control objectives and win on points. Nothing in Tyranids kills Custodes dreadnoughts efficiently and that could be a real wild card. Adeptus Mechanicus can hit really hard with their shooting but their melee is heavily reliant on re-rolls and mortal wounds and can be shut down. It seems like a matchup where terrain is a key factor and needs to be heavily tested.

I’ve saved the most interesting matchup for last: Covens Drukhari. It was heavily hypothesized prior to the codex release that if Custodes still relied on damage two weapons, that they’d struggle into the current meta with Covens Drukhari having near army-wide minus one damage. I shared that opinion before testing; it just made too much sense. There seemed to be no way Talos, Grotesques, and Wracks would have anything to fear from an army made out of damage two weapons. However, in testing I’ve found that to not be the case. My first game with the army, I pushed it into a finely tuned Drukhari army and the Drukhari broke first. As surprised as anyone, I played two more games into Covens and had far fewer difficulties than I thought I would going in. This was mainly caused by three factors:

  1. The high conversion rate of attacks to successful wounds
  2. The efficacy of the custodes anti tank firepower into talos and grotesques
  3. The ability of custodes to tie up wracks that would be swarming objectives by using the Dacatarai stance, which reduces pile ins and consolidates by 2”

Sure, reducing incoming damage by one dulled the pain my units could put out but when Vertus praetors make twelve attacks near Trajann, they do twelve wounds as opposed to many other armies who might convert fifty to sixty percent of their attacks to wounds, making the custodes attacks go much further than otherwise apparent. Combine that with the bonus attack off of Dacatarai and Misericordias and a small squad of custodes can rip a sizable chunk out of an ordinarily immortal wrack unit. Salvo launchers can actually kill talos and grotesques at a good clip and can largely do so outside of range of retaliation. Finally, the usual problem with Covens Drukari is that while you deal with the talos and grotesques, the wracks pile in and consolidate all over any objective in reach. Their threat of running away on primary score makes them a problem you can’t ignore even as Drukhari’s scarier elements threaten you with tabling.

With the ability to put a unit into Dacatarai over and over, Custodes can shut that down by touching the large twenty man blobs, usually more than one at a time and prevent them from going anywhere or taking any objectives while you focus on the talos. The impact this has on the game has to be seen to be believed. I had to go through all of that information because even I can’t really believe it. With all that in mind I’m going to somewhat disbelievingly call the Covens Drukhari matchup favored for the Custodes although it is a complicated one.

Custodian Guard with Storm Shields by Crab-stuffed Mushrooms

Choosing Secondary Objectives

Secondary choices for Custodes can be difficult but the problem is even worse for your opponent: Custodes give up a staggeringly low number of points on most secondaries, usually around ten on Assassination with some of the toughest characters in the game and far fewer on bring it down and no prisoners.

On the other hand, Custodes tend to be amazing at controlling objectives and as such Stranglehold is a good pick for them and a nightmare to pick against them. Raise the Banners High and Grind Them Down round out the trio of core secondaries you’ll want to take most games, though if your opponent is weak to Assassination or No Prisoners you should consider those options instead. Generally your secondaries are mediocre but your opponent’s are worse and 40k is a zero sum game anyways.


You can see more of Jack Harpster’s Custodes in action by checking out the Art of War on YouTube or in the War Room, where they post regular video battle reports and stream games.

Have any questions or feedback? Drop us a note in the comments below or email us at contact@goonhammer.com.