Know Your Enemy: Adeptus Custodes in 9th Edition

9th edition 40k has started in the past few weeks and by the emperor everyone’s favourite golden boys have gone from zeroes to heroes!

Historically we have seen Custodes have success running bike spam armies for a good couple of months and then a small revival of the army with the triple caladius before the rules changes. Other than that the army has mostly been absent before suddenly being the second most played faction (only after space marines) currently on the ITC battles app. With many tournaments posting results with many custodes players in the top 8 and many players not having much experience against the army it may be worth it to take a look at what makes them so good now. After all like Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

What changed?

The major changes to custodes in the past few months have been threefold: changes to how CP is generated, new rules in War of the Spider and new mission design. Where a custodes army in 8th edition would have anywhere from 4 to around 9 CP these days the average custodes army will be spending around 20 over the course of the game. And while many factions have benefitted from having more command points this edition custodes have had some of not only the best stratagems in the entire game but also some of the cheapest (and most efficient) ones. The problem however used to be that while custodes had many utility stratagems and a few offensive ones they did not get much in terms of defence. That changed with war of the spider massively boosting the durability of custodes units. Lastly the new missions favour skirmishing and brawling around the middle of the table which is every custodian’s dream. But let us start by examining what in my opinion has been the crux to the power boost of the custodes: the defensive stratagems.

Understanding Custodes Durability

Imagine a scenario: you are a space marine player playing against a custodes player who brought a Telemon dreadnought, which due to while we stand we fight is worth 5VP if you kill it. You cunningly manouver around and set it up so turn 2 all 9 of your Eradicators can put a massive volley of 18 melta rifle shots into it. What do you think the result will be? Well the answer varies between a very dead dreadnought or on average only 4.3 wounds depending on how many resources the custodes player commits.

Any baseline custodes non vehicle model will have a 2+ armour, 4++ invuln and be a minimum of T5. Most vehicles will be 3+ armour with a 5++ invuln with the Telemon clocking in at 2+ 4++ 6+++ T8. Suffice it to say every model has an invuln save and no model in the entire army is sub T5. But there are many ways to boost this survivability to the next level.

Vexila Magnifica: Most players will be familiar with the vexilus. This guy has a 6″ aura of -1 to hit against shooting. It is a neat little buff that most custodes armies will bring with them due to the vexila teleport homer stratagem (we will get to this one later). There is not much you can do about him other than killing him if you get the chance but the important thing is being aware of which units he is in range of and which units he is not. The -1 to hit varies from a cute buff against some armies to being absolutely brutal especially when paired with the emperor’s aspice, which takes space marines from hitting 88.8% of the time down to 50%
Works on: any unit within 6” of the vexilus, against shooting only

The Emperor’s Auspice (2CP): This lets the custodes player turn off all your rerolls against a certain unit for 2CP. This includes rerolls for to hit, wound and damage (but not amount of shots!).
Works on: any unit, any phase

Auramite and Adamantium (1CP): Allows a custodes terminator unit to ignore ap-2 for a phase. This stratagem right here amounts to about 90% of why most modern custodes lists include a large unit of Allarus Terminators. Many of the weapons which historically would do well against custodes are in the range of S6-8, Ap 1 or 2 with 2 or 3 (or d3) damage. Lower quality shots bounce off of the armour save especially when in cover and higher quality shots dont have enough volume and run into the invulnerable save. If you would force me to name a few of the weapons i was most afraid of pre Psychic Awakening the first thing to come to mind woul be the imperial knights avenger gatling gun with 12 shots S6 Ap-2 D2 or its 15 stomps at S8 Ap-2 Dd3. This stratagem singlehandedly shuts all of that down and lets you take all those attacks on your 2+ armour save. Be aware how devastating these weapons are against the entire custodes army except for the Terminators. Anticipate on your opponent deepstriking in their terminators very close to you and dont fall into the trap of shooting everything you can into them. Maximizing the effectiveness of your attacks is the name of the game, we no longer have kill/kill more to worry about. Plinking off a few models here and there efficiently will do more for you than pumping everything you have into a 2+ save just because the terminators are close and the terminators are scary.
Works on: terminators only, any phase

Ancient Artifice (1CP): This one is a straight copy from the space marines -1 damage on a dreadnought strat. Everyone has seen what it does and everyone knows how good it is.
Works on: any dreadnought, any phase

Arcane Genetic Alchemy (2CP): Straight up copy again from a space marine codex stratagem, this time with transhuman. This makes it so the target unit only can be wounded on 4+ regardless of abilities or modifiers. While this has a lot of value on space marines for custodes everything is such high toughness that at most this is taking things from a 3+ to a 4+. In my opinion this isnt worth the 2CP in the vast majority of situations. But for the few genestealer cult players out there still keeping it real with rock saws: you may bounce off of a unit you didnt expect to.
Works on: bikes and infantry, any phase

Grim Responsibility (1CP): This one is tied to a specific shield host. And while most initial reviews gravitated towards the Dread Host due to them boosting deepstrike, many people are now looking into Shadowkeepers due to this stratagem. This stratagem lowers all incoming strength on one unit for a phase by one. Not exactly as good as -1 to wound but pretty damn close. A unit of agressors moves over to fire on some bikes? This takes the incoming fire from S4 vs T6 to S3 vs T6, reducing damage by 50%. Melta or even las cannon shots into a Telemon dreadnought? Once again this comes in clutch. Be very aware of the breaking points on this stratagem. If you have a unit of grav devastators coming in their firepower against a T8 Telemon Dreadnought is significantly reduced by this while if they shoot into bikes it is not.
Works on: any shadowkeepers unit (so this excludes Trajann), any phase

Killing Custodes

So in short: kill the vexilus if you can (especially if your opponent still has units in deepstrike). Do not commit to any one single unit. If you do the custodes player will stack multiple of these stratagems on one unit and the math will skew very hard in his favour. Be aware of this during your movement phase and try to make sure you are able to put fire on a few different targets. Split fire at multiple units and bait out the stratagems. Then switch targets for other units accordingly. Being able to do damage in multiple phases also is very worthwhile as most strats only last for the phase. Eventually he will run out of buffs and he will run out of CP. Force the custodes player into hard choices. A single las cannon shot into a Telemon every turn really sucks for a custodes player. You dont want to spend CP on strats for just the one shot (and not be able to use the strat somewhere else) but after three turns it does add up. If he doesnt pop a strat your next unit once again splits one las cannon into the dreadnought again. If if he did pop a strat it goes somehwere else. Strategic reserves and deepstrikes are your best friend. Custodes do not have many units and hate having to commit a unit to run back to their deployment to clear something that deepstruck there and then having to run for another turn just to get back to where they were.

Janky stuff and cute strats

Where the custodes codex really shines is its many pages of very very good (and cheap) strats that pretty much all have their uses. Here are some interactions however that you will see in most of your matches and may cause the most amounts of feels bads:

Vexilla Teleport Homer (3CP): Most people by now know what this does. This lets a unit deepstrike wholly within 6″ of a vexilus model and outside of 3″ of enemy units. Pretty much all lists include a vexilus and a large unit of terminators they try to deepstrike using this strat (and using Trajann’s Moment Shackle ability to make this strat free). Be aware that per the FAQ’s can not beats can so things such as infiltrators and the Alpha Legion Scrambled Coordinates will negate the use of this strat.

Allarus vs Characters: The aforementioned Allarus custodians have a few strats and tactics specific to them. A popular thing is to pop both Inescapable Vengeance (2CP) and Superior Fire Patterns (1CP) to both allow their Allarus Terminators to target characters (ignore the look ouit sir rule) and double the amount of attacks coming from their axes to have every Allarus fire 4 times S4 Ap-1 D2 at your buffing chartacters. So a unit of 6 can shoot 24 shots hitting on 2’s probably rerolling 1’s S4 Ap-1 D2. That can (and will) reliably wipe out two characters that are behind a screen in one go.

Tanglefoot Grenade (1CP): This can be used to lower charges by D6 inches in the charge phase or movement by D6 in the movement phase. If you are in combat with custodes and you have a 5″ movement unit such as terminators a roll of a 5+ will; prevent you from fallbacking. Using clever positioning the custodes player will be able to elongate the distance needed to move for you to get out of engagement range. Things such as wedging models between his models and terrain or partially surrounding you (moving one or two bases past your model) allowing you to still fall back out of combat but needing 2 or even 3 inches of movement to do so. And while this wont work 100% of the time the custodes player will gladly pay 1CP to even have a 50-50 to negate shooting on a large unit of bikes or terminators for a turn. I have seen this be absolutely game winning quite a few times so do not get caught by this.

Fraternity of Heroes (1CP): This stratagem allows the custodes player to select a unit of theirs at the end of your charge phase more than 1″ away from enemy models and perform a heroic intervention with it as long as it ends that move within 1″ of an enemy unit. At first this may read as “1cp heroic intervene” but that is not entirely the case. Heroic interventions may only be declared while within 3″ of an enemy. This strat allows you to heroic intervene 3″ as long as you end up within 1″. So while a normal HI effectively can be called while at 2.99″ range this one can be called at 3.99″. Now i understand there is an arguement to be had about rules as intended but rules as written right now this is the case (and i have seen a lot of chatter on several custodes poages and forums about doing this). So be aware and do not get caught off guard.

Slayers of Tyrants & Unstoppable Destroyer: Both of these allow for pile in movement to be made under different rules. Slayers of tyrants allows Allarus Custodians to pile in and consolidate towards the nearest enemy character as long as they end within 1″ of any enemy unit. This means that Allarus in base to base contact can still pile in and consolidate as long as that base to base contact is not with an enemy character. It also allows them to directly walk out of combat and tag something else thats 3.99″ away from them as long as that movement vaguely takes them closer towards one of your characters. Unstoppable destroyer is a Captain-Commander upgrade option which may be given to a Shield-Captain. This allows the Shield-captain to pile in d3+3″ as long as it ends this movement closer to any enemy model within that distance. When the shield-captain consolidates it can move d3+3″ in any direction and does not have to end this move closer to an enemy model. Basically its a slightly more restrictive Student of History from the Iron Hands supplement that allows for some very janky play such as charging, fighting and then consolidating out of combat or charging something and tagging things ~10″ away from where he ended his charge move.

Playing the mission

In the end all of this stuff is nice but the game is decided on who played the mission better. Knowing why that unit you are shooting at just wont die and knowing what things to look out for is nice but you will have to go out and claim objectives, do missions and score points. Every single non vehicle unit in the custodes army is obsec and very very durable. So here are some things to keep in mind:

The custodes army does not have many units. When you are paying 200+ points for any decent unit and only have 6 or 7 relevant units on the table it is a pain to be everywhere at once. Custodes want to move forward to the mid fieldand use their good defences and obsec to slug it out and end on top. But besides the jetbikes (which many lists have stopped bringing) and an occasional unit of ForgeWorld jumppack guys (who die quicker than regular custodian guard) none of the army is very mobile. Things such as the Telemon have decent firepower but struggle to get around obscuring terrain. Custodian guard may have decent melee stats but if they are spending turns advancing to chase around units they are not doing much. In my experience as playing custodes for the majority of 8th and now some 15 to 20 games in 9th the custodes army shines when it can blob up and scrap in the mid field. If you can hold your own deployment and skirmish around the edges (via deepstrikes and tactical reserves) dealing with units appearing in the custodes players backfield becomes very problematic very fast.

Custodes obsec is good but yours is better. While custodes may have obsec on non troop units they still only count as one obsec model. If you can run in one or two of your units plus a unit troops very often you can beat out how many obsec guys are within 3″ of the marker.

You can mess with their secondaries a lot. Most custodes will select engage on all fronts from the supremacy category and only some will take linebreaker. Often custodes will run the majority of their army at you and have a couple of dedicated units to keep the backfield and contest the more empty areas of the board. It is not uncommon to see 5 or 6 units blobbed together towards one side with just 1 unit to the side grabbing that table quarter and 2 units in their backfield each holding an objective and a table quarter. Often people will focus on the 5 or 6 units steamrolling towards them trying to mitigate the impact those will have. However if you can focus those other units either the custodes plasyer starts losing out on points or the custodes player has to split off a more expensive and better unit to take that ones place. In this scenario killing the worse units which are away from the action does the same as killing the expensive ones right in front of you.

For their second secondary objective many custodes players will either select grind them down or while we stand we fight from the no mercy no respite options. If they choose grind them down dont try to battle them on it every battle round. Instead try to set up one, maybe two swing turns. Try and split your firepower and damage as much as possible between several units (this is also better at doing damage due to how custodes damage mitigation works) and get a few units to just one or two models left. Then cash in on this the next turn and get a big swing on amounts of units killed. Realistically you should not be picking grind them down against custodes yourself. Killing 2 units turn 2 and 2 units turn 3 may result in them outkilling you twice while killing 0 units turn 2 and 4 units turn 3 most likely will result in them only scoring points once. If you can make sure you do not lose a unit turn 1, set up for turn 3 on turn 2, outkill or match on 3, set up for turn 5 on turn 4 and then again outkill or match them turn 5 suddenly they only score 6 victory points here. If they picked while we stand we fight instead things become very dependant on the list. Most likely some of the options should just be off the table. A Telemon is very rough to try and kill. A 9W T6 shield captain on bike with 2+ 3++ 5+++ that can reroll two saves per round due to victor of the blood games is very rough as well. Trajann is pretty killable but most likely screened and in the middle of the death ball for most of the game. The best advice i can give here is to not try and get all 3 targets and instead set taking this from 15vp to10vp as your goal instead. Dont dump all your fire into one of these targets in one turn only to have them reduce all incoming strength by 1, incoming damage by 1 and turning off all rerolls. Once again try and plink some damage on some of the targets for a couple of turns and then only force the issue later on when these targets are damaged and they are running low on CP.

The last secondary varies wildly. Usually if they can take bring it down or abhor the witch against you the custodes player will opt to pick this. If not the mission specific secondaries, depsloy scramblers and raise the banners all are posibilities. Either way these are likely to not be maxed out and get stuck between 9 and 12 vp.


If you can manage to not fall behind on the primary too much (holding 2 objectives twice, holding only one once and holding more just once already nets you 40VP) you should be able to outscore on secondaries pretty consistantly as long as you plan for it and set it up during multiple turns. Dont run into the trap of thinking “this unit needs to die right now!” and stick to your game plan. Be aware to not get locked in your own deployment zone for multiple turns.

If any of this stuff was helpful in any way or if you have tips and tricks for playing against custodes let us know in the comment secition down below!

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About ChrisG

ChrisG (or Ahkris) is an avid tournament player in the Netherlands who also does vlogs, podcasts, battle reports and painting tutorials.

7 Responses to “Know Your Enemy: Adeptus Custodes in 9th Edition”

  1. Mr.MoreTanks
    Mr.MoreTanks August 25, 2020 9:34 am #

    Great article Chris! I think you nailed it. The durability of Custodes is one of the most important strengths they have.

    • Reecius
      Reecius August 25, 2020 9:48 am #

      I think that is the key right now to them doing well. They can hop on objectives and take a beating but keep it in their control.

  2. Avatar
    Luke August 25, 2020 11:34 am #

    Inescapable vengeance is 2 CP not 1. Spectacular article that really hits on the strengths and weaknesses of the custodes army as a whole and what to expect from them.

    And as much as I wish it weren’t so, I’m not convinced that slayers of tyrants or unstoppable destroyer let you move if you’re in base contact due to the new restriction in 9th saying you can’t move if you’re in base contact.

    And a quick shout out to stooping dive letting bikes charge you on your turn and fight before your own charging units

    • ChrisG
      ChrisG August 25, 2020 11:45 am #

      Thanks for the kind words!

      You are correct on the strat being 2CP, i edited the article, good catch.

      On the not moving when in base contact thing that is listed for the pile on move but not for the consolidation. So yeah there are some restrictions but you can still make it work i think 🙂

  3. Avatar
    Matt August 25, 2020 12:02 pm #

    Great article! Lots of in-depth, expert advice. Now I know exactly how much I need to panic when I see these guys on the table haha.

  4. Avatar
    Corb August 29, 2020 5:41 am #

    I think there is a mistake in your article. The rules say if you are in base contact, you cannot pile in or consolidate and you count as having move the full distance. Unstoppable Destroyer and the Allarus rule doesn’t let you bypass that rule. It’s written clearly in the rules.

    • ChrisG
      ChrisG August 30, 2020 6:54 am #

      Heya corb as i mentioned in a reply previously that applies to the pile in but not to consolidation as far as i can see

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