Instead of tiered shields, make shields a part of a tier.
There have been posts about adding higher tiers of shields, and there have been suggestions about reintroducing sword blocking. I think that the two could be integrated into a cohesive whole, forming a core combat/equipment mechanic. My suggestion would be to reintroduce sword blocking along with another, smaller shield - A kind of middle ground between the sword block and the current large shield.
The current shield takes a few ticks before it's able to block damage, but when it blocks, it really blocks. It can tank creeper explosions under the right circumstances, and while many complain, I think that it makes some sense - It really is quite a massive shield after all, and it makes sense that it would provide a lot of coverage against projectiles, explosions, et cetera. With a few nerfs, I think it could fill a "tank" niche in the equipment ecosystem.
On the other end of the spectrum is the theoretical sword block. This would be the lowest on the tier in terms of coverage, but it would be effective against melee hits and take little or no time to raise.
Between these two, there could be a third, lightweight shield as a midpoint between the two - Like a "round" (read "square") shield. It would require less time to raise than a large shield, and provide a little more coverage than a sword block against arrows.
This way, instead the tier system working in one way across one equipment type, which tier you choose would be different depending on your play style.
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