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Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes army guide

Warhammer 40k’s Adeptus Custodes army are the Emperor's elite guardians - this guide explains Custodes lore, models, and codex tactics.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork showing a battle line of gold armoured Custodian Guard

Clad in golden armour and wielding weapons that are legends in themselves, Warhammer 40k’s Adeptus Custodes are gleaming sentinels of pure fury and devotion to their Emperor. Our complete Custodes army guide covers everything you need to know about the Custodians’ tactics on the tabletop, their history in Warhammer 40k lore, their best models, and how to start collecting Adeptus Custodes.


A relatively recent addition to Warhammer 40,000, the Adeptus Custodes have deepened the lore of the Imperium, while adding a clearly defined, super-elite infantry army to the tabletop game’s faction mix. As an Adeptus Custodes player, you’ll never be able to field a huge army; instead, you’ll usually have just a few models – but each and every one of them is an army unto itself.

Among the Warhammer 40k Imperium armies of Space Marines and transhuman warriors, the Adeptus Custodes are the elite of the elite. They stand guard over the Emperor and his Imperium, the last line of defence between civilisation and eternal Chaos.

In the 8th Edition of Warhammer 40k, we saw the Adeptus Custodes come into their own as a fighting force. With new models, new characters, and new rules, they became far more than a diversion from Space Marines; they became something that stands alone, with a unique golden flavour. Now, in 9th Edition, they’re even more refined, benefiting from many rule changes in the newer version of Warhammer 40k, and making an appearance in some competitive lists.

If you’d rather learn a little about all the 40k races, try our overall Warhammer 40k factions guide – but, if you’re looking to start an Adeptus Custodes army, or simply want to know more about who they are in the game’s ever-evolving story, read on.

Here’s what to know about the Adeptus Custodes:

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork showing an Adeptus Custodes warrior with a Guardian Spear

Adeptus Custodes Lore

Despite only recently being added to the Warhammer 40k tabletop wargame, the Adeptus Custodes have been lurking in the background for many thousands of years. These golden heroes predate the creation of the Space Marine legions, and even the creation of the Primarchs themselves. Whilst records are spotty, the Adeptus Custodes (or Legio Custodes, as they were known then) date back to the Terran Unification Wars.

Earth – or Terra, as it’s known in the far future – wasn’t always united under the Emperor. For millennia, He worked from the shadows to influence humanity, but, once the nascent human empire faded into the Age of Strife, He took matters into his own hands. Over time, He built vast human armies to conquer the fractured nations of Terra – but even that wasn’t enough to finish the job – so, instead, He literally built an army.

The Legio Custodes were the first genetically and psychologically altered creations created by the Emperor, predating even the Thunder Warriors (the hulking proto-Space Marines that would be his final instrument in conquering Terra). The warriors of the Legio Custodes were fierce creations, each towering over baseline humans, and possessing many qualities that made them stronger, faster, more intelligent, longer lived, and just plain better than their normal human cousins.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork showing Adeptus Custodes warriors charging

The Custodian Guard, as they were also known, became the Emperor’s personal bodyguard (for they were few in number, and their skill in warfare unmatched) but Custodians could also occasionally be spared to lead particularly important missions, or as envoys.

This role as the Emperor’s bodyguards cemented them as the next best thing to the Emperor himself. They were always seen in his company or carrying out his will – and this is core to their being even until the present day in Warhammer 40,000. Prior to the Horus Heresy, they were sent out of Holy Terra and the Imperial Palace to watch over the Space Marine legions, as living reminders of the Emperor’s ever-watchful eye.

Alas, they could not be everywhere, though, and many things were hidden from them; despite the Custodians’ incorruptible influence, Chaos successfully gained a foothold in the legions, and the catastrophic civil war that was the Horus Heresy became inevitable.

During the Siege of Terra, the Custodes held fast against the rising tide of Chaos Space Marines, and assorted other servants of the dark gods. They guarded the Emperor with their lives, defending him unceasingly from the Terran war’s twin enemies: Horus’ armies outside his palace, and the teeming daemonic masses surging through the transdimensional Webway.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork showing Adeptus Custodes warriors marching into battle

The siege and the Heresy ended in the same moment, with the slaying of Horus, and the mortal wounding and ruination of the Emperor. His life was extended beyond all natural measure through use of the Golden Throne, and, ever since, the Adeptus Custodes have stood watch over him, deciding who enters the holy throne room, and turning away those they deem unworthy.

For much of the following ten thousand years, they have stuck close to the Golden Throne, to the exclusion of all else, keeping vigil over the Emperor through the millennia. Now, however, after a ruthless daemonic incursion on Terra, they have decided to follow their master’s example and take matters into their own hands. The Adeptus Custodes have once again returned to the galaxy at large, bringing war to the enemies of mankind, and making sure that the Imperium remains safe in the Emperor’s name.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork showing Captain General Trajann Valoris

Adeptus Custodes characters

True to their revered and ancient origins as the Emperor’s original praetorians, the Adeptus Custodes are an elite army, featuring few named characters. In the current Edition of Warhammer 40k, there are only three characters available to Adeptus Custodes armies – and, technically, one of those characters isn’t really a member of the Adeptus Custodes at all. Any model playable as part of the Adeptus Custodes is a mighty one, though, so let’s meet them:

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing the model for Captain General Trajann Valoris

Captain-General Trajann Valoris

Being Captain-General is a heavy responsibility for any shoulders, even the metres-wide set you’ll find on a Custodian. Not only is Trajann Valoris responsible for the defence of the Sol System, Terra, the Imperial Palace, and the Emperor, he also oversees the actions of all Custodes, planning their sorties and missions personally. If that wasn’t all, he’s also a High Lord of Terra, bringing governance of the Imperium into his daily role.

If he weren’t a mighty warrior without peer, veteran of a thousand battles, and didn’t have the Watcher’s Axe and the powerful Castellan Plate on his form, he wouldn’t be able to handle it. Thankfully, he is, and he does – making Captain-General Trajann Valoris one of the most powerful humans in existence, on and off the battlefield.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing the models for Valerian and Aleya

Talons of the Emperor: Valerian and Aleya

First seen in the Watchers of the Throne novel by Chris Wraight, Valerian and Aleya are both masterful warriors, each in their own way.

Shield-Captain Valerian comes from the Hykanatoi brotherhood, and has gained a reputation for being headstrong. This doesn’t come at the cost of his abilities on the battlefield, however, as he wields the guardian spear Gnosis to deadly effect. Yearning to take the fight to the stars and the enemies of the Imperium, he fights for the Emperor and the glory of humanity.

Aleya, however, is one of the Sisters of Silence. She travels the known galaxy, seeking witches and dangerous psykers, and ending them before they become a threat. She is a hunter without peer, known for always finding her mark, and the last thing many a psyker has seen is the descending edge of her relic blade Somnus.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing the front cover of the 8th edition Adeptus Custodes codex

Adeptus Custodes 9th Edition codex

The 9th Edition Adeptus Custodes codex went to pre-order on January 8, 2022 and was released for sale on January 15.

The release was somewhat delayed, as it had been scheduled to drop alongside the new Genestealer Cults codex in 2021, at the same time as the Shadow Throne battle box (which pitted those two factions against one another).

The new Adeptus Custodes was generally well received, adding more customisable combat rules – in the form of Martial Ka’tah battle stances – to give players of the low-model count, ultra-elite Custodes army more gameplay choices and make their handful of warriors operate in a more distinctive and deadly fashion.

The codex also brought the  Sisters of Silence – anti-psykers extraordinaire, and historic allies of the Custodes in the so-called ‘Talons of the Emperor – into the Adeptus Custodes codex for the first time, with rules to fight alongside the boys in gold.

To keep up to date with all the latest army rulebooks, including any news relating to the Adeptus Custodes 9th Edition codex, go check out (and bookmark) our Warhammer 40k 9th edition codex releases guide.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork from the 8th edition codex showing Custodians fighting chaos space marines

Adeptus Custodes tactics

While we’ve not yet updated this section to fully reflect the 9th Edition Adeptus Custodes codex (watch out for that soon), it’s worth reflecting how the latest edition’s game systems already complemented the Custodes’ stunning models, guiding how they play best. Many of their rules (to be found in the 8th Edition codex and the Psychic Awakening: War of the Spider books) still stood strong in pre-full-Custodes-codex 9th Edition.

One of the biggest changes across the board in 9th Edition has been the renewed focus on Command Points and Stratagems – fantastic news for the Adeptus Custodes, who got some frankly brilliant Stratagems in late 8th Edition’s Psychic Awakening: War of the Spider supplement. Ancient Artifice allows you to halve incoming damage to a Dreadnought, and only costs 1CP to use. An absolute game-changer is Arcane Genetic Alchemy, which boosts your non-vehicle units’ survivability. Pop it on any non-vehicle Adeptus Custodes under attack, and, for one phase, you’ll watch the damage simply wash over it, with all wound rolls of 1-3 failing. Fortress of Willpower is a Stratagem that sees a Custodes unit resist a psychic power cast on them for 4+, or 3+ if they’re Wardens.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork from the 8th edition codex showing Adeptus Custodes models defending a bridge

Those are all brilliant Stratagems, but they all pale in comparison with The Emperor’s Auspice. This 2CP Stratagem makes it so your opponent can’t reroll any dice when resolving attacks against one of your units. At a stroke, this simply destroys the staple offensive tactics of many armies, allowing your Custodes to wade through melee attacks or hails of fire with only minimal casualties.

There’s a reason the Adeptus Custodes are an elite force – and your opponent will learn that lesson swiftly after you’ve deployed this Stratagem against them once or twice!

The other main thing that makes Adeptus Custodes armies shine (other than their highly polished auramite plate) is that they have incredibly strong basic statlines, with each of your models more or less equivalent to a character in another army. This doubles for your characters; if you thought your other units were powerful, wait until you meet your HQs.

You also get access to some strong mobile units – such as those atop Dawneagle jetbikes – to help you get into the action and tie up important objectives quickly and early.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community artwork from the 8th edition codex showing Adeptus Custodes models defending an imperial complex

In terms of drawbacks, well, there are a few. In particular, you’ll be constantly fighting against your numerical disadvantage on the battlefield. Planning is always key to victory with a Custodes army, as you can easily be outflanked and lose ground, simply due to having so many fewer models to play with. With board coverage and holding multiple objectives such a big deal in 9th Edition games, this has become more challenging than ever.

All of which is to say: the largest drawback to the Adeptus Custodes in 9th Edition is that they’re pretty difficult to get the most out of. Lots of armies are easy to learn and difficult to master, but almost all are more forgiving than the Adeptus Custodes. With so few troops on the tabletop, you’ll have a lot to consider all the time, and your every action is impactful, making them one of the more difficult, but ultimately, strategically rewarding Warhammer 40k armies to play. For better or worse, they really are a lot more subtle and nuanced than their flashy armour would suggest.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing the allarus terminator armour details close up

Exploring Adeptus Custodes models

One of the absolute pleasures of playing Warhammer 40k is the models. Simply owning these creations, getting to build them and then lovingly daub them in your chosen colour scheme, is a joy. No matter your skill at any of the above, these models are created with such care, with so many intricate details, that you’re sure to find some pleasure in even the simple act of owning them.

The Adeptus Custodes are, as we’ve said earlier in this article, an army made of a small number of units. So, to balance this out, it’s clear Games Workshop has ensured each individual Adeptus Custodes model sings.From the sheer level of detail on your so-called ‘basic troops’, the Custodian Guards, to the fluid, aggressive styling of the ornate Dawneagle jetbikes, every Adeptus Custodes model is a wonder to behold, that only gets better, the closer you get to it.

Adeptus Custodes are a faction that also benefits strongly from the small-run, high-detail enthusiast models made by Games Workshop’s sister retail label; Forge World. Here you can find Custodian Venerati descending on angel’s wings; Grav-tanks with strong, bold lines reminiscent of Ancient Rome at its peak; and gunships that look like they’ve fallen from the pages of Dune.

It’s safe to say that, if you love the modelling aspect of Warhammer 40k, then the Adeptus Custodes are your dream army. They offer almost limitless opportunities for customisation and developing your own paint schemes, and each model tells a story through their sculpting.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing the models for the Custodian Guards

How to start collecting Adeptus Custodes

Building an Adeptus Custodes army means building a tough force that will look almost comically tiny on the battlefield – but you need to remember: each of your models is a hero.

Custodian Guards are the backbone of any Custodes army, and with good reason: they can be tooled to have a better armour save, and an invulnerable save on top of that, making them almost indestructible. We would definitely recommend investing in at least two boxes of Custodian Guards to form the core of your army.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing the models for Allarus Custodians

From there, we’d look at expanding with a box of Allarus Custodians, or three. These Terminator-armoured warriors can teleport into battle, have strong defensive measures thanks to their unique, ancient suits of Terminator plate, and come with a wide variety of weapons, including a grenade launcher which can clear out hordes in seconds.

For characters, you can do no better than the Captain-General himself, Trajann Valoris. With a strong invulnerable save and five attacks in close combat, he’ll stand toe-to-toe with anyone in the game. Along with his stonking baseline stats, he offers a massive buff to nearby Adeptus Custodes units, letting them reroll both hit and wound rolls. He also can use his personal Relic, the Moment Shackle, once per game – letting him heal a bit, fight an additional time, or make your next Stratagem cost 0 CP.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing the models for the Vertus Praetors

Your next port of call is some Vertus Praetors. These are your fast-attack models, riding atop speedy jetbikes, and will be essential to achieve any solid control over the battlefield in 9th Edition 40k. With a movement of 14”, the FLY keyword, and a toughness of 6, they can be almost anywhere, any time, and won’t die too much on their way to the next objective.

Warhammer 40k Adeptus Custodes lore, tactics, and models - Warhammer Community photo showing an Adeptus Custodes Relic Contemptor Dreadnought model

Finally, for a meaty model that’ll pack a punch and also soak up some fire, you can’t go wrong with a Venerable Contemptor Dreadnought. It’s strong in both shooting and melee, has fairly decent mobility, and can shrug off wounds like a boss.

It might not be the strongest Dreadnought available to the Adeptus Custodes (if your pockets are deeper, try a Telemon), but, when you’re building your starter army, and not looking to invest too much into Forge World-only models, it’s a great next step.

From there, you should be able to field a pretty competitive army that can deal damage, withstand hellfire, and take objectives. You’ll be fast on your feet as well as able to form a doughty battleline. If you’ve come this far and completed the above list, it may be a time to dip a toe into Forge World’s offerings, as some of their dreadnoughts and vehicles are simply stunning – but be warned that you’ll pay a considerable price for them.

Now you should know more about who the Adeptus Custodes army are, where they came from, how they play, and what you’ll need to pick up to start taking your army seriously. Remember to fight until the last man, to fight in the name of the Emperor, and to be eternally vigilant.