Introduction to Meta

The Most Effectice Tactic Available, or Meta, is something well explored in Nuclear Throne as there are over a hundred players who have crossed the Loop 10 mark while the original intention of the game was for players to reach just Loops 2 or 3, with the global world record stretching all the way to Loop 25. This guide will serve as an explanation on both how meta works, and to give you the resources to personally enable yourself to start reaching deeper loops of the game.

As a guide portion of the wiki a reminder that this is explanations provided with subjective advice on what is tried and trued - it is not a list of rules on the 'right way' to have fun in Nuclear Throne, and should not be treated as such.

How it works

The game can be viewed in simple terms by splitting it up into three sections. Preloop, in which only normal IDPD appear and is generally low risk while the player tries to make a mutation set and find good weapons. Loop, in which the player must deal with hordes of enemies and oppressive elite IDPD units and the majority of runs will end here. Deeploop, in which IDPD Freaks take over and the true limits of the game and the player can both be tested. Vans will also explode in L3 onwards, which adds to the chaos and insanity in a level.

Normal IDPD
Appears in Loops 0-2
Elite IDPD
appears in Loops 1-2
Mutated IDPD
Appears in Loops 3 onwards

The reason why meta is able to work so efficiently in the first place is because of IDPD Freaks. While they were initially added by the devs as a sort of 'hardwall' to players to stop progress past Loop 3, they instead had the reverse effect where they immensely help a run specifically because they drop radiation upon death. Upon reaching level ultra rads are no longer useful for leveling, but rather are used in part as ammo for the six ultra weapons - and given that IDPD Freaks drop rads, and also have the ability to revive, they now become fuel sources to reacharging your rad meter moreso than they are obstacles.

The Ultra Shovel (ushov)

The first tool here is the Ultra Shovel, which does 30 damage and requires no normal ammo - just 14 rads in order to swing. While the damage is fairly respectable, its reload time is over twice as fast as a normal shovel and provides necessary coverage from enemy bullets. When running meta mutations this makes ushov efficient at providing constant defense for the player from most damage sources, while also providing good offense to any enemies immediately nearby.

IDPD Freaks takes one ushov swing to kill in L3-L5 if running Scarier Face - otherwise they always take two swings. Upon death they drop 23 rads(with CoBlood) which acts as fuel for the ushov. Getting through Loops 3-5 is easier than getting through Loop 2 with meta weapons because IDPD Freaks can be easily killed in one swing and bosses are not a huge problem at this point in the game, though the difficulty will ramp up more later. Once they take two swings to kill, it costs 28 rads to swing twice where one will only give 23 rads back. This is a small rad deficit, but with how clustered together enemies and IDPD freaks usually are multiple will usually be killed in a swing.
(Without Face they take three swings in L21+, but that's not something to worry about.)

The Super Plasma Cannon (SPC)

SPC is the other vital weapon that works in tandem with ushov - it is easily the strongest weapon in the game with the highest damage potential by far for a single shot. But this comes at a cost; 24 energy ammo which is nearly half of the normal ammo capacity, and 8.67 seconds to reload SPC normally. Both of these are multiple times higher than any other weapon in the game which makes the weapon easy to disregard unless you take mutations specifically around it, which meta does. At a fully built meta mutation set, SPC can be fired repeatedly into crowds of enemies as the rate of ammo gained will often be as quick as new shots are able to be fired, similar to how quickly ushov can be swung at the rate of rads gained. This is excellent for killing the majority of bosses in the game swiftly, and clearing entire swathes of enemies with very little effort.

Crown of Blood (CoBlood)

The other tool used during the run to make things so efficient is CoBlood. At face value this can be confusing as the crowns downside is enemies now drop less rads, and more enemies means more threats to kill. However the amount of enemies added to a level will far outweigh the number of rads lost per. enemy killed, primarily because enemies are increasingly clustered together which makes rads not a problem. So rather, the crown is taken in order to increase enemy spawns which can help with better rad intake, but primarily will add more enemies to die to SPC which will proc Trigger Fingers which will then in turn allow for SPC to be shot even sooner, thus resulting in a constant snowball effect.

Meta Muts

In order to make ushov and SPC work so efficiently in deeploop the proper mutations are vital to this. An optimized meta build is referred to as a 'Perfect X', where X is the number of meta mutations. Generally used mostly for Perfect 7, P8, P9. The mutations that consist of this is as follows:

The Core 4 Part of P7 Damage Muts Healing Muts

In order for a set to be 'perfect' it will need these mutations in that rough order, split into categories. Some characters metas will differ from this as listed further below, this is sort of the standard meta guide.

The first is the Core 4 which is considered the bare minimum muts for the players survival and to make ushov/SPC actually effective weapons.

Core 4 is the sort of basis for a build but certainly needs more mutations to increase success. A perfect 7 is generally the bare minimum a player would want to aim for if trying to push into deeploop, which includes Stress and Pluto on top of the Core 4, as well as choosing a damage mutation.

A 'standard P7' usually uses Scarier Face in it, but Laser Brain is a very viable option too and is up to player preference. P8 can include either both damage mutations or one damage and one healing mutation, the best choices being:

The true 'Perfect 9' includes both damage mutations and Bloodlust, but Rabbit Paw is a very viable pick that some meta players show strong preference for. Regardless the idea behind a P9 is to take mutations that give the strongest benefits to offense, defense and a mix between the two.

Other Mutations

TB Very Viable Somewhat Viable

These mutations largely can be viewed as good or decent 9th mutation options, while they may not define a build if a set includes them, it will still be an efficient set.

Unviable Potentially harmful Harmful
Weapon Mutations

These weapon mutations should never be taken in an optimal set because by nature they do not directly benefit ushov or SPC, however that does not mean they are completely useless. During boss fights SPC can quickly be swapped out with a weapon that is under the effect of a weapon mutation to quickly exhaust its ammo then swap back to SPC. This never is worth taking these mutations alone for, but if a set so happens to have them: