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Each switch axe has its own specific type of "phial", which gives an added bonus effect to your hits when you're in sword mode. What does each phial type actually do? I just got the Arzuros Axe, which has a "poison" phial, and I have no idea what that actually means.

The types, according to the wiki, are:

  • Power
  • Paralysis
  • Poison
  • Dragon
  • Element
  • Exhaust
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Power

Adds 25% damage to all RAW (physical) damage you do in Sword mode.

Element

Adds 25% damage to all Elemental damage you do in Sword mode.

Dragon

Adds Dragon element to all your attacks in Sword mode, which is the type of damage Dragons are the weakest to (i.e. Rathian, Rathalos). The exact amount depends on the weapon.

Paralysis

Attacks in sword mode will do paralysis. The exact amount depends on the weapon.

After doing enough Paralysis damage to a monster they'll be stunned for a short while. The amount of paralysis damage you need to inflict, and the duration of the monsters stun, varies based on the monster. Take note that after you stun a monster, it becomes harder to stun it again. Additionally, paralysis damage is "removed" from a monster over time, so you need to keep attacking in order to paralyze the monster.

Poison

Attacks in sword mode will do poison damage. The exact amount depends on the weapon.

After you inflict enough poison damage on a monster they will be poisoned for a predetermined duration, and will take damage over time. Like paralysis, the duration and amount of poison damage required to inflict it depends on the monster. It will also be removed over time, and becomes harder to apply on the monster with each successful application of it.

Exhaust

Attacks in Sword Mode will do Exhaust damage. The exact amount depends on the weapon.

Exhaust damage inflicted on the monsters head will do KO damage. After a certain amount of KO damage is dealt the monster will be knocked over for a short period. Do note that like other status ailments the KO damage inflicted on the monster will decrease over time, so it's important to keep attacking the head if you wish to knock the monster out.

Exhaust Damage inflicted anywhere but the head will do stamina damage, which drains the monsters stamina. When using a Switch Axe that does exhaust damage you'll notice monsters will begin drooling a lot faster than normal, resulting in them being less effective in battle.

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Note that status attack "damage" isn't actually straight damage. Status damage merely increases a counter for a monster's status. After that counter reaches a certain threshold, the monster is inflicted with that status. –  Yuki Mar 31 '13 at 0:48
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