This paper examines the critical merger or strong interaction distance between two equal-potential-vorticity quasi-geostrophic vortices. The interaction between the two vortices depends on five parameters: their volume ratio, their height-to-width aspect ratios and their vertical and horizontal offsets. Due to the size of the parameter space, a direct investigation solving the full quasi-geostrophic equations is impossible. We instead determine the critical merger distance approximately using an asymptotic approach. We associate the merger distance with the margin of stability for a family of equilibrium states having prescribed aspect and volume ratios, and vertical offset. The equilibrium states are obtained using an asymptotic solution method which models vortices by ellipsoids. The margin itself is determined by a linear stability analysis. We focus on the interaction between oblate to moderately prolate vortices, the shapes most commonly found in turbulence. Here, a new unexpected instability is found and discussed for prolate vortices which is manifested by the tilting of vortices toward each other. It implies than tall vortices may merge starting from greater separation distances than previously thought.