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Advanced Combat is a new combat system implemented as part of 1.9, The Combat Update.
As of 1.9, there is an off-hand equipment slot. Any item can be equipped in the off-hand slot, but a player can only use it if the item in his/her right hand does not have a right-click function (e.g. You can't have a Sword in both hands).
Shields replaced the previous method of blocking attacks with a sword, and can be equipped in the previously-mentioned off-hand slot. Shields make it far more easy to block projectile attacks such as arrows. Banners can be added to shields to make them more decorative.
New tipped arrows were introduced in 1.9, which apply Potion or status effects, including spectral arrows which form a glowing outline around the struck target, making them visible to the attacker through any Blocks.